Seabourn Encore - Cruise and Review (including video)
Having launched in 2016 and with it’s sister ship the Ovation due to launch in 2018, these two ships are Seabourn’s subtle approach to enlarging their fleet with one simple aim - to fit more guests in. 604 passengers compared to 450 and this time, all suites are balcony. Nope, no Ocean view suites. There are 400 crew compared to 335 on the Odyssey class ships. The Encore is 26% larger and holds 34% more passengers. Without doing the math, that’s less space per passenger than the Quest, Odyssey, or Sojourn and with slightly less crew per guest. 2/25ths of a crew member in fact. Well now, does the missing 2/25ths of a person PER GUEST make a difference? Read on!
The design is a case of ‘hey, it looks like the others, but hang on a minute - something’s not quite right’. They’ve kept to the DNA of the Odyssey class ships and at first glance, you’d probably not notice much difference. All the same design cues are there, including those weirdly overcomplicated funnels. But despite it’s fine genetics, there’s something about the Encore that just doesn’t quite look as sleek or as pretty. It’s the Odyssey classes bigger, butcher sister who has more of her fathers genes than her mothers. Comparing the ship to the Odyssey class side by side, the front profile seems very masculine, almost aggressive with it's high imposing bow. I suppose there’s a cost to fitting in an extra deck or two. It’s admirable and rather clever they haven’t made the ship look TALLER, rather extend the height of the hull to squeeze in that extra deck and in that respect, the rest of the ships profile is beautifully balanced.
If the outside shouts masculinity at you, the internal areas on this ship are nothing short of feminine beauty. Detail is in every corridor and on every wall. If you’re like me and can’t help looking at stuff, it takes an age to get anywhere with so much distraction. Wall art, sculpture and curio’s boldly scatter the public places, invoking a feeling you’re on someones vast private yacht, mesmerised at their art collection (and with free access to the cocktail cabinet).
Two internal areas are worth noting:
Seabourn Square is no longer, well, square but Seabourn Circle would sound daft I suppose. It’s still a great place to chill and the coffee bar remains our most visited venue over the course of a voyage and the absolute WORST place to resist the extra calories on offer. They make great coffee and even roast their own beans in their own neat little roaster. Freshly suffering from your cake counter sugar coma, you can’t beat the lazy boy recliners at the rear, just as in the Odyssey class ships. In many ways they’re just too comfy - I challenge you not to nod off on one. Actually I challenge you to master the directional buttons on one before your voyage is over! No? Me neither.
What a relief to find that Seabourn have enlarged the gym and relocated it on this ship. The facilities on the Odyssey class ships are quite frankly awful. They’re claustrophobic, under equipped and seem a pokey afterthought. This one is much bigger, brighter, better equipped and more inviting to sweat off that hangover you deny having or extra secret trip you made to the cake counter at Seabourn Square while the other half was dozing.
The Verandah staterooms will be very familiar to existing Seabourn travellers. They are the same square meterage as the other three ships. All the usual bits and pieces are present, including the complimentary bottles of wine and spirits that you select but NEVER get around to opening because you drink enough outside of your suite (well, we do anyway). Also, a shout out to Seabourn for the Molton and Brown goodies in the bathroom. You can tell you’re getting older when you choose to squirrel these away into your case at the end of your holiday in preference to the bottle of Hendricks you’ve not opened. What have we become? Nicer smelling that’s what!
I do very much like the subtle inclusion of a little white box on the ceiling that I’m sure is a wifi booster. If they’re in every room, then this is a first as far as I’ve experienced. Nice one Seabourn. Erm, not that we do such distasteful things as BROWSE when on board you must understand. Far too many menus to peruse for THAT kind of behaviour. who wants to look at a screen when you have a new and beautiful view outside your balcony every day? You do? Oh.
Eat. Eat. Eat.
Were slightly disappointed at the demise of Restaurant 2. We prefer the fiddly fussy tasting menu style food over the chop style Americana of Thomas Keller. Instead, the Encore has a Keller restaurant specialising in just that. We were on the Quest when Seabourn were trialling the Keller experience a couple of years back and you can see our video of it on our YouTube channel. We weren’t massively impressed, but they’ve refined it and we very much enjoyed both times we ate here. Keller just doesn’t add his name here. He’s heavily involved with all aspects of these restaurants, from sourcing the ingredients to constructing the menus to hiring the chefs. But if you’re expecting a Restaurant 2 experience, you not going to get it. It’s over. Goodbye Restaurant 2. We were great together but you were just too fussy and high maintenance. You see, this new rugged American has moved in, and he’s absolutely great at home cooking.
The sushi venue is all new too. Like walking into a japanese video game, this bright little venue is fun from the very first konichiwa. The helium filled waitresses radiate the most infectious happy energy and the food matched their enthusiasm perfectly. We preferred dining here at lunchtime rather than the evening, but nonetheless, what a brilliant place to eat and you will definitely leave with a smile on your face (and maybe a sensory overload induced headache).
If all that new stuff is too funky for you, the colonnade or main restaurant will bring you back to the traditional Seabourn dining experiences.
They’ve made a fine job of the main restaurant. It is bright, modern and stylish. The food is up there with what you would expect from Seabourn. The only problem is, with so many different venues to choose from, we hardly spent any evenings down here. Despite the draw of it’s consistently lushious menu, the temptation was too great to try other experiences. One crafty thing we did do however, was to sneak down here if we preferred the desserts and grab a table just for the sweet stuff. Naughty I know, but you know, those souffles……!
We actually had a couple of evenings in the Colonnade too, which is something we’d never done on previous voyages. Was it just us or have Seabourn beefed up their evening offerings here? Actually, it may have been the draw of warm evenings al fresco dining.
Speaking of outside, the patio grill has been enlarged at the expense of the sun loungers by the pool. To be honest, It feels a little disjoined during the day as people lounging around in their swimming shreddies right next to the smartly dressed enjoying a bottle of wine and some lunch. We couldn’t get used to it. The evening was a pleasant experience though. The waiting staff left no detail unattended and the menu was as you would expect.
Overall, there are more choices here than on the Odyssey ships which can be problematic if you’re like me and can’t ever make you’re mind up.
The ‘Seabourn difference’
Seabourns website boasts: ‘Intuitive, personalized service provided by staff passionate about exceeding guests expectations’
Well, this is mostly true. The staff are Seabourns biggest asset. I haven’t met a single member who doesn’t look as if they don’t enjoy their job or enjoy the guests’ company. Of course there may be a bit of smoke and mirrors here but even if it’s a carefully trained illusion, it is very well executed. We’ve been on ships in the past where the staff range from strained politeness to desperately unhappy and we haven’t seen any such emotions here. Seriously, they are fabulous and it really makes a difference to how we feel as guests. If you’re spending a chunk of the kids inheritance (much to their annoyance) on a decent holiday, then you don’t want to feel uncomfortable or guilty as the staff thinly veil their resentment towards you for making them work seven days a week on less than minimum wage. But whatever Seabourn's policy is on staff pay and rest periods, it seems to be working well. Looking at the gallery above, these are the type of details you'll experience in your suite almost on a nightly basis. The suite attendant's are amazing!
Now, if you think I’m making you all dewy eyed over the Seabourn difference, there’s a few of the small issues on our voyage that will dry them up fairly quickly. There’s not enough time to go through each one, so here come some very summarised bullet points.
The Officers Epicurean Night was cancelled at the very last minute due to weather that didn't materialise. This resulted in quite a lot of food wastage.
There wasn't a big ‘band and dancing staff’ welcome aboard on this trip. Only a small thing, but they are enjoyable to watch and experience.
The old Seabourn trick of everyone knowing you by name wasn't evident on this cruise.
There were no random complimentary on deck massages. Again, a small thing but...
No Pisco on board! WHAT? How can I properly enjoy my evening without a Pisco Sour? (yes, I'm being overly 'luvvy' here)!
Still, the caviar is available whenever you fancy it and we did fancy it A LOT. What a truly amazing offering this is, presented neatly with all the trimmings. A definite highlight of Seabourns six star pledge.
And the Marina Day is always massive fun and this one completely lived up to expectation. We took out a two person kayak, which was as much fun as you can have on a mildly rolling swell having forgotten to bring your GoPro and instead worrying your brand new iPhone would slip out of your pocket into the sea. The things I do for this blog eh? Dear oh dear.
Also, a quick word about the pool area. Lovely though it is, we found that at peak times, the staff struggled to keep up with the towel tidying, litter collection and there seemed to be quite a few plates lying around. Bless these people, they are constantly on the go from dawn til after dusk catering for our every spoilt need so this is in no way a criticism of them. I found myself often clearing up after myself, which was sometimes problematic as there was no where obvious to put used plates, cutlery and glasses. This is something we never had to do on the smaller ships. Again, I’m not complaining, just observing. Is this where the missing 2/25ths of a crew member makes the difference? Remember, there’s a hundred and fifty extra people to fit around the pool and that equates to a LOT of extra crockery, rubbish and towels.
1st World Problems. Named as such because really, being blessed enough to be able to have holidays like this, any little niggle is not REALLY a problem, is it?
Firstly, The Retreat. It’s VERY expensive, it’s only really any good in decent weather and it uses a perfectly good area on the ship we’d all like to enjoy right? I took a peek and it was empty - quell surprise! I think Seabourn needs to re-think this costly area, especially with the Ovation in mind too. Come on Seabourn, either give all passengers a day up there for free per voyage or reduce the price. You know it’s the only way this beautiful area is going to be used as much as it should.
Speaking of un-used areas, the rear seating area outside the Keller restaurant was hideously under-used on our voyage. Why waste such a premium space when the Colonnade gets so busy? I know it’s an overflow for the Colonnade but Seabourn should make it a bit more obvious that it’s available to use.
Number three - sun bed hogging. This happens a lot on larger ships, but you really shouldn’t expect to gradually work yourself up into a righteous rage as you walk around for the fifth time and see the SAME towels and bag on the SAME lounger with literally NOBODY there all day. An example, we spotted two beds covered in a guests stuff at around 10am and we sat next to them. It was FOUR in the afternoon before ANYONE came back and even then they just got something from their bag and disappeared again. Shame on you, selfish people, shame on you. Seabourn needs to be firmer in their approach to bed hogging.
And as we’re talking shame, look what we spotted on the roof of the Colonnade right below the suite balconies. We could be wrong but they look to us like cigarette/cigar burns, all concentrated in one area, obviously from one particular balcony. Guests like this should be prevented from returning AND have the bill for a new canopy sent to them. Urgh, it makes us so cross.
Summary. Too big or big enough?
The Encore is a worthy, if slightly less pretty addition to the Seabourn fleet. If you’re a regular guest on Seabourn and are cautious about the larger ship with 150 more passengers, there are aspects that will leave you feeling totally comfortable and (much smaller) aspects that confirm your fears. Overall though, we didn’t see much difference in our experience to make us think that the ‘go large’ strategy by Seabourn is a backwards step. Traditional Seabourn customers who still mourn the loss of the tiny yachts Pride, Spirit and Legend will find nothing to rejoice about here. But for the rest of us, we shouldn’t be concerned about the change. The ‘bigger is better’ mantra that seems to infect other cruise lines has bled slightly into Seabourn’s company plans, but not enough to cause concern. They STILL only have 650 passengers, which is around 300 less than Crystal, around 40 less than Azamara and it’s only you and two friends more than Silversea’s new Silver Muse. Given that, what on earth is there to complain about?