Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mitsubishi Outlander vs. Cadillac SRX - What Does This Have To Do With Luxury Cruises?

This past weekend I drove my children 325 miles to Vermont where they will spend four weeks at sleepaway camp...without cell phones, texting, computers, iPods, video games, air conditioning or fashion.  It may seem like a horror to some, but my kids can't wait to get back to probably their favorite place on earth. 

At my son's camp, Keewaydin, the owner, Peter Hare, walked right up to my son, recognized him by name, shook his and said "Welcome back. Great to see you!" and at my daughter's camp, Songadeewin, she was greeted with, "Oh, I didn't recognize you with your hair pulled back. We are so excited you are here for your second year!" Yeah, that name recognition thing is important to me...and even more so to my kids. It makes them/me/(you) feel valued and something other than just a nameless person that needs to be mechanically greeted just because you are there. But that is only a side note to what I am thinking about today. 

During my 12 hours of driving there and back I thought about how many things we have that really aren't necessary and clutter our lives.  I thought about how for years I drove a $50,000+ Cadillac SRX because it was supposedly a luxury SUV, but for me it was one headache after another.  Then I thought about my used 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander I bought about 6 months ago for $19,000 and how this rather ordinary SUV does so many things better than the Cadillac SRX...and how much happier it made me...because it gives me what I need (whether to haul hay or take the family on a long journey).

Seriously, the Outlander has all the basic luxury and functional items such as leather seating, automatic climate control, satellite radio, high intensity/self-leveling lighting, true 4 wheel drive (locking differential), 3 rows of seating, etc., but it doesn't have much in the way of wood trim, heavy doors, rear air conditioning or gimmicks.  The Mitsubishi is quicker and handles better than the Cadillac, maintains the same highway speeds equally as well...and has the bonus of 25 mpg vs. 18 mpg (40% better!).

And that lead me to thinking about a discussion I have had, and has recently been had on Cruise Critic, about why Seabourn is worth the premium in price, but Celebrity is a better value than Silversea or Regent.  Note:  I am not saying Silversea or Regent are not good cruises, but wonder if the "value" is there. 

Lincoln used to be the standard bearer of luxury, but then it started to slip in quality and had gimmicks that just didn't work.  Then the fit and finish started to slip and it became really not much more than a Ford with a few bits and slick marketing.  When compared to Lexus or Mercedes it just doesn't make it...even with the premium pricing and efforts to maintain its cache.  Cadillac is much the same.  But then compare that Lexus to an Infiniti and you start to wonder if the value doesn't lie in the Infiniti.  I mean the name doesn't have the cache, but the car has all the bells and whistles, and fit and finish of a Lexus, though the ride is different.

Thinking about cruise lines as I was driving I began categorizing them as The Yachts of Seabourn and Crystal Cruises being the Lexus/Mercedes, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas being the Lincoln and Cadillacs and Celebrity being my new best friend, the 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander.  (I figure Oceania is probably an Infiniti, btw.)  I leave the superyachts to the Rolls Royces and Maserattis.

I mean, all luxury lines have nice alternative restaurants, but Seabourn doesn't charge for any while Silversea overtly does (and, in fact, is quite expensive) and Regent has increased its pricing to include the cost of (though, admittedly, it never did charge for) alternative dining. Compare Celebrity which charges $25 or $30 per person for a truly excellent cuisine with great service in Murano and a solid steak in Tuscan Grille or decent (if not gourmet) Asian in Silk Harvest. 

Then I thought Celebrity Cruise Line's upper suites are really quite nice, and up to the standards of the luxury lines.  The butler actually makes a difference (as opposed to Regent and Silversea where they don't really), you have a private lounge with complimentary breakfast in the morning and cocktails in the evening before dinner.  Add to that its Premium Liquor Package where for less $70 per day (including gratuities) you have unlimited access to premium liquors and wines...and soft drinks.  So for about $100 per day in an upper suite (over and above the cruise fare) you can been doing quite well.  Yes, there are a few compromises like having to sign (or at least show your card), you may encounter a line or a crowd, the pool will probably be a disaster (but I don't hang out there), etc., but you also have more entertainment alternatives, a better casino, etc.

Celebrity is, like my 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander, providing me with the things I like without my having to pay a premium just because the SRX is a Cadillac...although I did have to give up a bit of flash...and, importantly, disappointments and frustrations when the flash (or anything) didn't work properly.

But, alas, that does not mean I want to give up cruising on a luxury line.  I just want to find the value in doing so.  Paying for tours I will never take (ala Regent) or getting credit for a "free air" that was never free (Regent and Silversea) don't add value.  And, honestly, those pitches things make me look closer at the little things.  It makes me wonder if I need headlights that automatically come on (I don't miss that much) or a seat that pulls back when I turn the car off (I hated the feature) or wood trim that is really just a veneer that is coated with a durable plastic finish or dual passenger air conditioning controls (does that really work anyway?).  They make me feel like I am overpaying for Lincoln when for the same money or less I can have a Lexus, Mercedes or Infiniti....with stuff that really matters.

Ever look at a luxury car and say, "That is silly or doesn't work."?  Remember the BMW radios that were so complicated they were impossible to use?  Remember the first automatically parking car which really didn't park itself?  It does not mean that the vehicles are bad vehicles, but if you paid an extra $2,000 for a navigation system that didn't function as promised, you would be disappointed...even if the automobile rode well, was comfortable and otherwise functioned as promised. Or what about having purchased that Mercedes only to find out that the fuel filter costs $500 and must be replaced, when you would have thought that fuel filters should have been included (or more reasonably priced) for what you paid for the car and/or tune-up.

It is no different, to my mind, with cruise lines.  Pay $200 a person for dinner in Le Champagne or $80 in Sheisen on Silversea... or buy that fuel filter?  Have a new ship built that doesn't accommodate physically challenged people ala Silver Spirit?  (BTW, my brother-in-law recently broke both legs and is being accommodated on the Seabourn Odyssey.  Silver Spirit obviously - even though possibly less expensive  - wasn't even an option.)  Have a navigation system or tours included that just don't function well ala Regent Seven Seas?  What about a service department that pretty much requires "Mike" to work on your car or you will be there all day (or in the Compass Rose on Regent)?

These issues always make me look even harder at the little things.  A slightly misfit panel, a rattle, a bit of wind noise.  A failure to refresh my drink.  The lack of a smile.  Ordinary canapés and no caviar.

Seabourn and Crystal are two different styles of cruises.  But one rarely hears of such issues.  They are not perfect, but when a Maiden Voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn is described as "Flawless" and the renovations of the Crystal ships are given rave reviews, it skews the field... and not because of favoritism, but because of performance. 

I bought my first Cadillac SRX because I liked the car and thought it had value.  I got my second one because the first one had lots of issues (mechanical and electrical) so I got a large discount to try another.  (Sound like a cruise gone bad and then given a discount on the next one?)  But when the troubles continued..as they did for me on Regent Seven Seas...I had enough and knew I needed to look at other brands.  So I looked and saw that quality control and service was more of an issue than it had been in the past.  I saw companies struggling to reduce costs in this economy. 

And I saw Toyota...and thought of Silversea.  (Not that Silversea is dishonest - I strongly do not believe same.)  This bastion of perceived quality was hiding the financial issues and that the cutbacks...which are now admitted to be related to financial issues...will effect the quality of the luxury product more and more. And I ask, "Do I really want to get myself into a long term lease or purchase when I am going to be charged $500 for a filter/dinner or wonder if the quality that once was will be in my car/cruise?"

For me, and the way I analyze cruise lines, I see that Seabourn strives for perfection, has strong financial backing and remains focused on the little things....those things that give luxury "value".  Crystal also has strong financial backing, though its approach and style of cruising is different: less flash and more of a stoic approach (though one it is trying to shed).  But just as even a Rolls Royce or Maseratti may be the pinnacle of one's automotive experience, neither is perfect. Things may break or not work as designed.  Things may need improvement.  But overall you get the feeling of "WOW!"

So when you are looking at your next cruise, take a look at the actual car/cruise rather than the one you used to know or paid for.  Take a look at whether what is offered today is of true value or if you are going to regret paying for things that either don't function as promised or in the end aren't useful.  And, of course, don't forget my 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander for there are some really good deals out there if you just take a fresh look at some of the offerings by other cruise lines such as Celebrity.

Friday, June 25, 2010

So You Think I Was Cheerleading About The Seabourn Sojourn? Read What Others Are Saying!

I know it is hard to believe that a cruise line can get it pretty much all right, but the reality is that Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden Voyage was about as near to perfect as it gets. I ended my rather analytical review as follows:  "I have been on a number of Seabourn cruises…and I am comparing this cruise only to my previous Seabourn cruises and my expectations…and the Seabourn Sojourn exceeded my expectations; and not just expectations for a maiden voyage, but for any voyage."  But some readers think that just might have been a bit of hype.  It wasn't...and I can prove it!

I previously reported that during President, Pamela Conover's, Question and Answer session there was not a single complaint and that during my time aboard the Seabourn Sojourn...for the Inauguration and Naming Ceremony, the Charity Event and the Maiden Voyage (through Iceland)...I hardly found a flaw.  Then I heard the ratings by the guests was near "off the chart" with the average rating being 9.56 out of a perfect 10!

Similarly I reported that some of the little criticisms of the Seabourn Odyssey had been corrected:  The vibration is gone, the high tables in The Restaurant are history, the banquettes in the Grand Salon are lower and one Spa Villa has been converted to a beautiful pre/post treatment relaxation area for all spa guests to enjoy.

Cruise Critic (whose relevance in the luxury market is now fairly minimal considering the few posters and even fewer that sail more than a week at a time) has a few comments, but those are all very positive and consistent with mine.  An infrequent poster, Won2Go wrote, "Wow, Seabourn did a great job all round. The ship worked well without any obvious problems. The extra activities put on for this trip were wonderful: fireworks as we traveled along the Thames estuary, a Viking village re-creation in Iceland and a fabulous evening in Amsterdam. The staff were all very enthusiastic and did everything possible to please the guests."

Cruise Diva (http://www.cruisediva.com/) has a blog post today:  A ‘Flawless’ Maiden Voyage For Seabourn Sojourn which quotes Seabourn Blog's noting of comments from quite a few guests; each one raving more than the other.  The nicest of Linda Coffman's comments was, "The consensus of emotions among guests and crew was a mix of elation and pride."   Guests having "pride"...does it get better than that?

I ask you to pause...just for a moment...OK, just one more...

Now, if you had a choice between selecting a cruise line that performed at that level...with the expectations being so high and the critics waiting to pounce on any flaw...and any other luxury line, be it Regent Seven Seas, Silversea or whomever, what would the factor(s) be that would make you not put Seabourn on the top of the list of choices?

And there is the conundrum!  How do I honestly tell you how good Seabourn is and how I seek to provide my clients with that same level of service without seeming to be cheerleading?  Oh, such problems!

Anyway:  Now do you believe me?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Photos and Images

Maiden Voyage Plaque Honoring Her First Guests - Iamboatman and wife are in the upper left corner
Seabourn Sojourn in the Faroe Islands
Chef Bjoern's Haggis Tasting

Improved Banquette Seating in Grand Salon

Kneipp Pool

Deck 5 Aft Pool and Hot Tub

Iamboatman and wife about to board RIB high speed boat tour of Faroe Islands - Very Cool!
Torshavn, Faroe Island Harbour (Note Grass Roof Homes)
Riding Icelandic Horses Outside of Rekjavik, Iceland

Iceland is THAT Beautiful
Seabourn's Specially Created Viking Village
Seabourn's Warm Welcome????

Seabourn's Past & Present Iceland Extravaganza
Under the Largest Tent in Iceland
Welcome Home Seabourn Style
Staff Lined Up Through the Ship...
Offering Bailey's Laced Hot Chocolate to Set Up a Late Afternoon Nap

Grand Exit in "Seabourn Style" from the Seabourn Sojourn -
Pilot Boat to Heimay Island, Iceland

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Review of My Time on the Seabourn Sojourn – Inauguration and Maiden Voyage

I have now had time to digest and reflect upon the Inauguration of the Seabourn Sojourn and the Maiden Voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn. So it is time to discuss things a bit.  (For an overview of the ship itself, please refer to my Cruise Review of the Seabourn Odyssey located on the Goldring Travel website. )

I was going to entitle this article, “Seabourn Sojourn: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, but there honestly was nothing “bad” or “ugly”.

Then I was thinking, “Seabourn Sojourn: Hits and Misses”, but that would probably be overwhelmed with “hits”, so it would be repeating that which I have already discussed.

I also thought about comparing various aspects of the Seabourn Sojourn to the other luxury lines (as many people find this blog by googling “Seabourn vs. Silversea” or similar, but this is not about comparing this ship to any other ship.

And then I figured why not just call it was it is, “A Review of My Time on the Seabourn Sojourn – Inauguration and Maiden Voyage”.

Having been at the Inauguration of the Seabourn Odyssey I knew that when I arrived in London for the Inauguration of the Seabourn Sojourn things would be better. The shipyard, T. Mariotti, would not be permitted to pull the stunts it pulled on the first ship (Carnival Corp. would make sure of that). Seabourn would be sure that its crew and staff would have plenty of time to get onboard and organize themselves and things as they should be…in the proper Seabourn way. And, of course, this is the second ship of her class, so the lessons learned on the Seabourn Odyssey gave Seabourn a running start.

Arriving early, I could tell there was a quiet confidence from everyone from management on down. Yes, there was the frenetic pace caused by trying to prepare and board travel agents and dignitaries (two distinct groups!) in an orchestrated manner while keeping things on, as they say, an even keel and with the surprises to come being kept secret. But I could tell Seabourn was ready to put on “The Show”. [To read about “The Show” please read my blog posts earlier this month.]

For me the best part was that there were so many faces I recognized. Some from the Seabourn Odyssey, some from the Seabourn Spirit, some from I am not sure and a few from other luxury cruise lines. Different from before, there was a blending of souls rather than an “Oh, I remember you.” While I knew Shannon from the Seabourn Spirit (my favorite concierge nee purser) the others played right off of that relationship to form new ones with me. The same in the bars, with Stephie and Garrett leading the way for others, and in the restaurants (Arnold, Virginia and others). Chef Bjoern, Hotel Manager Guenther, Captain Buer, etc. It was more like “family” than “favorites”.

I really did not have a concern about the service, because you could just tell it would be “that good”. Service was excellent from the instant I stepped onboard. Whether at the Sky Bar or The Club, my Glennfiddich was ready for me almost before I arrived. And each esoteric drink my wife or her friends ordered was poured without hesitation. Service in the dining venues was excellent. Whether it was perfectly fried eggs in the Colonnade (presented faster than eggs could possibly be cooked) or a long dinner in The Restaurant or a fun dinner in Restaurant 2, it didn’t matter who was serving us…it was outstanding. So outstanding that I was shocked one morning when a waitress from Restaurant 2 apologized for somewhat slow service the evening before…and I thought the service was perfectly timed.

Over and above the regular service were the VIP efforts. I am not talking about when I dined with Howard Frank, the Chief Financial Officer for Carnival Corp. (the service during that important dinner was not distinctly different from any other dinner service we had…It was that good.) I am talking about things like:

     - A private wine, cured meat and cheese tasting Chef Bjoern and Head Sommelier Timor held just for me and my wife in the Main Galley. It was, without question, an awesome experience with some pretty special cheeses and some nice pairings.

     - A private Haggis tasting at lunch. Chef Bjoern prepared five different types of haggis for us to try…elegantly prepared, of course. We did have one complaint: Vegetarian haggis is just wrong!

However, there was one (and only one) notable miss was my stewardess. She was pleasant enough and did keep the suite clean, but there were too many little misses (one day it was failing to replenish the shower gel, another the ear buds, another tissues) and responding to a request took too long. The good news is that the other stewardesses on my deck were so nice and on top of things, they were quick to make things right…and always with a smile and with speed.

As for hardware, the Seabourn Sojourn was presented in fantastic and pristine condition. (No patches, or “that’ll work for now’s”.) About the ship I did not see much other than perfection. Everything had a place and it was in its place. Having seen where T. Mariotti had let Seabourn down with the delivery of the Seabourn Odyssey, I had my eyes looking for anywhere Seabourn had to catch up or make a quick repair. Honestly, I didn’t see any such thing. It was pretty much all good. My inspection did not disclose any areas of concern.

There were a few improvements over the Seabourn Odyssey (which will receive the same treatments in November): The silver banquets in the Grand Salon have been made lower, so it blends with the décor and are more functional; the under-utilized high tables in The Restaurant have been removed and normal tables put in their place, and one Spa Villa was replaced with a relaxation area for anyone having a spa treatment. I liked the execution of all of these changes.

The extent I have to go to find a miss: I found (as did others) the frosting on some of the glass toilet stall doors to be insufficient; making them a bit too translucent. In the Observation Lounge the gasket to the outside deck (port side) was not quite tight enough, so that in a stiff wind there was a whistle.) And one thing I would like to see changed (and, alas, it is just personal taste thing): I would like the lights a bit dimmer at the Sky Bar in the evening and I would like to see the back wall behind the bar totally covered in teak. I think the white metal bulkhead just doesn’t look as finished as I think it should be. (So much of the ship is “that finished” that this one area stands out for me.) Yep, that was about it in “flaws”.

I was compelled to test out the forward hot tub (on the bow). It was in the low 50’s in the Faroe Islands and the sun was shining. After a great high speed RIB tour and a walk around town, it was time to supervise the sail away. I was prepared not to like the hot tub as much as I do on the triplets, but I actually like it better. You sit higher, so you have a better view of what is happening off the ship, while still being pretty private. I assume someone came to take my drink order, but am not sure…because I promptly fell asleep floating away for about 45 minutes.

Similarly, my suite, which I went over from top to bottom was in great shape and fully stocked. Two very minor flaws: a single cabinet latch was defective and one foot was missing from a veranda ottoman. But from overstuffed pillows to a warm blanket for sitting out in cool weather to great bathrobes to the sewing kit and Molton Brown toiletries, it was all there…in its place and as it should be. Once again, I found by turning the showerhead just a few degrees to the right, the water flow was to the larger portion of the shower and it was more comfortable (as I do find the showers to be just a bit tight.) Other than that, the bathrooms are the nicest at sea by a long measure.

I will pause to note that Ralph Grizzle, the Avid Cruiser, made a negative comment about the size of the televisions in the suites. I, personally, found the television (pondering his criticism) to be just about the right size. (OK, possibly it could have been about 3 inches higher…because my wife kept sleeping with her knees bent!) I don’t really spend a lot of time watching it and I like the fact that it tucks away in the cabinet, not to be seen or reminded of. The selection of movies was great. I enjoyed the travelogues and documentaries (I watched the one on Heinz) and the accurate information on tours…which you can book from your suite.) The iPod dock was fine, but it is not for critical listening as the television speakers (which are pretty good for tv speakers) are used.

The internet was quite good, weather and northerly location issues aside (as you can’t blame them on the ship). I did have a problem logging on in my suite (Suite 622 – slightly forward on the ship). The problem was, however, only logging on…which makes me believe it is a software tweak, not a hardware problem. All I did when I found the issue was walk with my laptop to Seabourn Square, log on and then walk back to my suite with my laptop open. Then hours of uninterrupted internet was the rule.

The lunch and dinner cuisine was phenomenal. I have detailed a number of the menus from the Restaurant and Restaurant 2 in my prior posts, so you can refer to them if you have further interest. The overall impression was one of multiple choices where I was struggling if I should go with one starter/main or another. Or if one canapé was the best I ever had or one I just enjoyed. I would note that there is a mantra from a few that it is time for Charley Palmer to take a step back. I strongly disagree, for what I see is Seabourn allowing its chefs to play off the Charley Palmer inspired menu…for it is not a text book, but a guide from an outstanding chef.

I did have a unique chance to sample consistency. Because I was a guest for the Inauguration, and the charity event the next evening I was able to compare the execution of the same menu on two different nights and, lo and behold, it was prepared identically. Consistency is very important and impressive when done well.

The downside of consistency is that I found Seabourn was not pouring enough variety in its offered wines. I generally was offered two different reds and two different whites throughout my time onboard. While Seabourn is quick to offer complimentary alternatives, I found the need to know what wines complimented the cuisine not quite as it should be. This is the first time I have experienced this on Seabourn, so I am assuming it was a provisioning issue. I will see how things go on my November Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise.

I wish I had more time in The Colonnade. It was fine for breakfast and I did try something other than a basic breakfast, but even though the Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon were very good, it was just too heavy for my liking…but it was very good. I am more impressed with the fact that my eggs (sunny side up, poached or medium boiled…I had different eggs each day) were perfectly prepared.

My efforts to have lunch or dinner in The Colonnade was frustrated by my busy schedule off the ship, my haggis tasting, a nice formal lunch and, alas, just being full and skipping lunch. Dinner was also missed due to a number of special dinners, Restaurant 2, and a wonderful lamb curry specially ordered in The Restaurant by some friends of ours. That dinner is worth of note because it was the real deal in every respect: saffron rice, pompadoms and more …Outstanding. (And far more elaborate than a ‘mere” special order course or two!)

I did have a chance to sample…just sample…the food at The Patio Grill. Aside from a lack of hunger and time (ever get the feeling I need more than seven days for a cruise), the cool temperatures limited my time outdoors on deck during its opening hours. What I tasted, in an ever changing menu of offerings – which highlighted grill standards of hamburgers, etc. and pizza – was quite good, if not memorable. I did try the pizza under the most unfair of conditions: 50 degrees and windy doesn’t give any pizza a fair chance when tasted by a guy from New Jersey. The French fries were, as always, memorable.

It would not be appropriate to end this review without mentioning again the way Seabourn ended my time on the Seabourn Sojourn: with Seabourn Style. As I mentioned in my prior posts (which you can read for the details), when the port I was going to disembark in (Heimay Island, Iceland) was bypassed because of rough seas, Seabourn literally turned the ship around and ordered a pilot boat for me. It is true that on Seabourn there is no such thing as “no”!

In summary, and not considering the Inaugural and Maiden Voyage festivities, I was very impressed with the Seabourn Sojourn and its staff and crew. I have been on a number of Seabourn cruises…and I am comparing this cruise only to my previous Seabourn cruises and my expectations…and the Seabourn Sojourn exceeded my expectations; and not just expectations for a maiden voyage, but for any voyage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Need Honesty! Do You Think Iamboatman Is Full Of It?

As I write the glowing reviews of the Seabourn Sojourn (abeit it my "Hits and Misses" yet to come!), I wonder if the perception is that I am being less than honest, or am being honest but biased, or am just full of it. 

So on The Gold Standard Forum I have posted a thread with a poll seeking candid input.  You can find it here:  I Need Honestly. Do You Think I Am Full Of It?  The question I posed is as follows: 

As I have been writing the travelogue of the Inaugural and Maiden Voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn. While I honestly have done my best to be as objective as possible, do you really think I am telling the truth or do you think I am coloring things because I want to sell more cruises or have my bread better buttered?D o you think there is a better way for me to relay the information so it appears more objective? As I am asking for your honesty about my honesty, if you are more comfortable, use the Anonymous posting option if you so desire.

You do not need to be worried about being personally attacked if you blast me, call me out or compliment me.  On The Gold Standard Forum such conduct is not permitted...especially by me.

The reason for my asking is to improve what I do.  So I am encouraging you to criticize me!  (OK, if you want to tell me you like what I do, I won't be upset.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part XII - Some Videos and Photos

I was sorting some of my videos and photos of the Seabourn Sojourn Maiden Voyage and Inauguration this morning and thought I might give you a taste of what is to come.  And a little discussion on why I am continually so impressed with Seabourn.

Honestly, I was not prepared for the Inaugural Celebration to be as moving as it was, so at the last minute I pulled my mobile telephone from my pocket and videoed the last moments.  It isn't the highest of quality, but it hopefully will give you a sense of what "Seabourn Style" is all about. 

To set the stage, so to speak, there were enormous floral arrangements everywhere, a huge ice martini bar, champagne flowing, passed canapés, and more.  Then, on Deck 9 overlooking the pool (which also had a floating floral arrangement) four beautiful women playing a high tech string quartet started playing classical music with more and more power and volume culminating with this:

Now, I try to be fair and objective about things and this is a perfect example as to why I have so much more confidence recommending The Yachts of Seabourn over Silversea Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  If you recall Silversea's Naming Ceremony, it was a boring daytime affair with people seated in rows followed by a number of boring speeches. On the other hand, Seabourn put on "The Show"...and remember I haven't shown you the celebration for the Maiden Voyage Sailaway or the Seabourn Experience in Reykjavik as of yet.

Open bars and service with a smile is just not enough.  Gimmicks don't really do it.  There needs, in my opinion, to be a "Wow Factor".  I am confident that Seabourn will consistently continue to provide that Wow Factor.  When was the last time you heard of being wowed on Silversea or Regent?  Let me know...seriously and I will write about it.

Two days later, the Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden Voyage was undertaken.  Again, with Seabourn Style the British Royal Marines were called in:

This was followed by a lovely speech by the President of The Yachts of Seabourn, Pamela Conover:

More to come!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part XI - Land Ho!

On Saturday evening we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland...again...and stayed at the Radison Blu 1919 Hotel. The hotel, and most all four star hotels in Reykjavik (there are no five star hotels) are within the same small area.  For a quick stay the hotel was just fine.  A standard room was comfortable and everything worked (free internet included), though you will be your own bellman.  One criticism - and this is a weird one - the blinds do not darken the room enough.  At 2:00 a.m. it was a light as 5:00 p.m. so the room never got dark.

Anyway, my wife and I walked over to The Seafood Cellar (it is actually named Sjavarkjallarinn, but have fun trying to say that!) for a greatly anticipated meal.  This smallish restaurant is, in fact, located in the cellar of the tourist office, but is anything but touristy.  It would have been quite romantic except for the two large groups who had booked the place.  (To be fair, we were warned in advance, but this was our only night in town, so we went for it.)  The word on the street was that the Chef's Menu was the thing to order. It was!  (You know you are in for it when the very attentive staff gets a gleam in their eyes when you order it.)

Shared dish after dish.  Venison, lobster, arctic char, lamb, tuna, prawns, cod, salmon, ling, and more...it kept coming and coming and coming.  And it kept arriving in different and wonderful ways, both in preparation and presentation.  And just when you are ready to give up...the desserts start appearing (yes, plural) and then the finale:  an oriental spin on ice cream in a smoking bowl placed in the center of the table.

Our dinner lasted over three hours, but went quickly.  And then we emerged from The Cellar expecting dark and it was light...very light.  But we were so full getting to sleep was not an issue.

We arose the next morning to find we were both stiff and sore.  At first we thought it must be the bed, but it felt OK.  Then my wife said, "Everything...even my lungs...hurt" and I realized I suffered pretty much the same way.  Then it hit me:  It was the horseback riding on those famously smooth riding Icelandic horses two days prior.  It caught up with us and we had a 5.5 hour flight home ahead of us.

Before we departed, we took a walk around Reykjavik and, as I do, stumbled upon a Sunday market and the ever important fish market.  I sampled dried catfish, some smoked something and then the infamous fermented shark (Hákarl) which has a putrid smell.  I, as instructed, ate some first and then smelled it later.  If I did it the other way around, I probably would not have been able to eat it.  I hate to say it, but I rather liked the small portion I tried.  I would not sit down with a plate of the stuff any time soon, but I can proudly say I survived it.

After buying some things for the kids, we ate lunch an upscale bistro serving local food, Geysir.  I had a fantastic seafood soup followed by a perfectly prepared piece of cod.  It was a very nice way to enjoy my last bit of Iceland.

Our trip to the airport was a bit much.  I could not figure out why it cost about US$150 for a taxi to the airport, so I went for the Flybus at $15 per person.  Jammed in, move your own bags, it was a very long trip into the middle of absolutely nowhere to the airport.  Next time - and I will return to Iceland - I am going to spring for the taxi.

Check-in was a breeze and the Icelandair Saga Class Lounge was quite nice.  Stepping into the new Icelandair jet was like a step back in time.  Nice, clean plane with great leather seating (no fly flat seats, but at 5.5 hours, it would be kind of a waste) and attractive flight attendants in older style uniforms that smiled and gave great service.  While the meal service wasn't as fancy as some larger carriers, the choices were good (I had a bento box of sushi and such prepared by a local restaurant) and some pretty decent wines. 

So now the adventure is over, but I will post some of my concluding thoughts...after I have a couple of days to think them through.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part X (Seabourn Never Says "No"...and You Can't Make This Stuff Up!)

As I noted in my last post, the day was not over and Seabourn had time to wow me some more...and it did.  (Trust me on this:  I do not get paid to say everything is wonderful.  I get really offended if anyone tells me to say everything is wonderful.  I couldn't sleep if I said something was wonderful if it wasn't.  The Seabourn Sojourn, its staff and crew are just that darn good.  Amazing!)

We had a second dinner at Restaurant 2 with some friends.  I won't bore you with the menu, but suffice it to say the menu won't bore you because it changes frequently.  Dinner was excellent and the service was great.  (What amazed me was a quiet "apology" the next morning that the service wasn't 100% perfect.  It wasn't?  I must be slipping...or Seabourn keeps raising the bar!)

After dinner I slipped in to see a bit of the Seabourn singers, having been my one comment of concern.  What I saw as much better, if still not my cup of tea.  But was of very promising note were the comments made to me and overheard (nah, I don't do that) that there was huge improvement in the show.  Possibly the first night was a matter of jitters.

OK, so now I am all set for Heimay Island, Iceland.  We have a boat tour organized, then a leisurely lunch, pack up and fly to Reykjavik for the evening and next day.  The plans came to a crashing halt when it was announced:  DUE TO ROUGH SEAS, HEIMAY ISLAND WAS BEING PASSED BY.  And with three sea days the next chance I had to fly home to the kids and pressing business would have been four days later.  I told Seabourn the world would not come to an end, but getting off would have been a much better option for me.

So what did Seabourn do?  Pam Conover, luckily onboard, gave the order:  The Seabourn Sojourn was to turn around and head back to Heimay Island...and had a pilot boat come out for me and my wife!  (And, no, I didn't ask for such treatment...It just happened!)

Talk about being embarrassed!  So we packed up in a hurry, the excitement spread around the ship, in typical Seabourn fashion, we had time to enjoy a last cup of coffee in the Seabourn Square with some friends and clients...very civilized.  Civilized right up to when they put life vests on us and passed us, while still underway, from the Seabourn Sojourn to the local pilot boat!  My embarrassment continued when I saw guests on their balconies supervising the operation!  (At least it gave the remaining guests something to do and talk about after the port was canceled.)  NOTE:  Seabourn does have a policy of never saying "No".  That policy may not apply to a request for a mid-cruise custom disembarkation on a small volcanic island in the middle of the North Sea.  As your travel agent I prefer you do not ask me to arrange same.

But of course Seabourn also had its port agent waiting for us and assisted in getting our day reorganized.  (And this is why I love travel.)  Having already done the partial circumnavigation of Heimay Island, seeing the nesting kittiwakes and puffins, the place the reacclimated the orca known as Free Willy and the spectacular scenery and cliffs...and the rough seas...we decided to give our 11:30 a.m. boat tour a miss.  This left us with lots of time to kill on a pretty rainy day before a 5:20 p.m. flight to the mainland.

We plunked ourselves down in Café Kro, where we were to pick up our boat tour tickets.  The owner, a lovely woman, named Unnur (pronounced almost like it looks!), was making up place settings and began to chat with us.  She told us about her family, her trip on a motorcycle riding down Route 66 (and showed us the local paper's article about it), life on the island, how she got married, the wonders of how only one of her children has blond hair (the others being ginger)...all over a cup of coffee and a bowl of soup.  And then she said that we could exchange the boat tour tickets for bus tour tickets as she owned the café, her husband, Capt. Simmi owned the boat and one of her sons operated the tour bus!  Who knew we would cozy up to the mogul of Heimay Island!

As we waited for the 1:30 p.m. tour Unnur showed us a video of the truly devastating volcanic eruption on the island in 1973 which consumed over 200 homes.  Heimay Island is a very small island and you can literally see the lava flows just outside the harbour - where they fought to stop the lava flows with millions of gallons of cooling sea water.  It gave a whole different perspective to this place and a much greater respect for those who live there.

After a nice freshly caught cod lunch it was time for our bus tour...with about 10 other people.  Unnur and Capt. Simmi's son was quite funny with a dry sense of humor.  I am glad we took the bus trip, not only because we were able to see this wonderful little island, but because it was more like spending time with new friends than your typical tour.  BTW, Heimay Island is supposedly one of three windiest places on earth.  Note to self:  Find out the other two and don't go there!  The wind was absolutely incredible when you left the harbour.

A cold beer and some fries at Café Kro and it was time for our flight to Reykjavik.  We made our flight without issue (no security, no luggage tags, and they served chocolates on the 20 minute flight...are you jealous?) and started the end of our adventure.  But, alas, our trip is not over!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part IX

Today, which is not over, has been a great day.  It started with my Icelandic horseback riding adventure and has, so far, ended with a fantastic and creative Seabourn Experience.  (Isn't it great to know at it is after 5:00 PM and there is still great opportunity to be wowed on a Seabourn cruise?!)

Today started with a 30 minute drive where my wife and I arrived at a horse stable for the long anticipated ride on Icelandic horses.  The weather was perfect:  Beautiful blue skies, light wispy clouds, a very slight wind and 60 degree temperature. (Yes, its true.  What I write is always true!).  My mount was a large, handsome, incredibly well behaved and responsive horse with an Icelandic name I do not have the slightest clue how to pronounce.  (In Iceland you just get used to it...and there is nothing you can do to pick the language up in a day or two.)  Our group was small (only four people), but unfortunately one person just should not have been there so it slowed us down.  In the end - as you will shortly understand - that just might have been a good thing.

Off we rode into some truly beautiful landscape with high peaks, green valleys, yellow, white and purple wildflowers, clear streams, all sorts of birds flying by and singing.  It was storybook...except for the riding thing.

All that stuff you read and hear about how smooth the ride on an Icelandic horse is, I think, fantasy....or possibly fraud!  After having things bounced that were never intended to be so treated, our guide explained there are two kinds of Icelandic horses, four gate and five gate horses.  The five gate are the ones that have the great ride (though my wife - riding by my side - will dispute this).  I, of course, was saddled with (sorry about the pun) a four gater.  My horse's transmission was, it seems, faulty!  Sore bits aside, he started, stopped, increased speed (and my pain) and slowed down on command.  He went left, right, uphill, downhill...even in a circle.  He allowed me to feel for those two hours of actual riding time that I actually had a clue what I was doing.

After our truly beautiful ride we were given a light lunch and then taken directly back to the ship so that we would not be late for the Seabourn Experience.  I would highly recommend this private experience, but will make this blog post required reading so you know what you are getting into!

After a quick dash onto the Seabourn Sojourn to change clothes we were lead onto a bus to an event  never held in Iceland (or anywhere I am aware of) and something no other cruise line could pull off:  The Land of Fire and Ice - A Journey Through Time.

We were first taken to the past: a recreated Viking Village where there were all sorts of tents and activities set up with actors in full costume engaging in blacksmithing, sword fighting, guarding the jail (complete with prisoners), engaging in games (participation encouraged!) and, of course, a taste of the local Icelandic aquavit (I didn't catch the name, but went back for seconds in a valiant but futile effort to remember the name).

We were than ushered past 1,000 year old Icelandic glacier ice into the largest tent available in Iceland where we were treated to both ancient and modern Icelandic music performed by the local star, Ragnhildur Gisladottir (see what I mean about the names) and in between was a wonderful folkloric tale acted out and told by a truly talented and funny Icelandic actress, Thorunn Clausen.

Being Seabourn, we were treated to - yes, can you believe it? - another fantastic meal (you know, the one between lunch and dinner).  I noted that the menu was in error...because there was more offered than what was on the menu.  It was modern Icelandic cuisine including:

- Monkfish with Chili and Ginger
- Pan Seared Reindeer with Sesame
- Grilled Lobster
- Smoked Salmon, Cottage Cheese and Asparagus
- Prawns, Butterflied and Fried.

Desserts included Fresh Strawberries dipped in Praline, Icelandic "Sorur" (which I think was a really good chocolate puff pastry/tart thing) and two other chocolate offerings with a marzipan cookie.  It sort of felt like a Restaurant 2 "Lite".

After the show we were back to the busses and given a small piece of Icelandic lava as a gift.  That kitsch, however, wasn't the real gift but rather a memory of the actual gift.  The recent volcanic eruptions have killed thousands of trees in a country that is, for the post part, devoid of them.  In honor of this Icelandic event, Seabourn donated one tree to Iceland for every guest on the Seabourn Sojourn's Maiden Voyage.  It was a very touching moment which the lava will remind me of.

A funny thing (at least for me) I am reading a book now which I will review later which gave me some insight into the Swiss approach to life.  When we were back on the bus heading to the ship I asked the man sitting next to me if he liked the event.  He said it was "just long enough".  I asked him if he was Swiss, which lead to an interesting conversation as to how I knew.  A quick, but interesting, international travel bonus.

Not done, we arrived back to the ship with the staff and crew lined up with the Seabourn Welcome Home banner not only before the gangway, but into the ship, past security and down the hall.  I guess with so many more staff onboard the Seabourn Sojourn than the little sisters, it takes that much more room to have everyone welcome you home!

But of course being Seabourn, while we waited the 2 minutes to board, we were offered Hot Chocolate with Bailey's.  The perfect setup for a late afternoon nap!

Seabourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part VIII

I took the time yesterday to speak with John Barron, the cruise director.  I knew John and his wife from another cruise line, but he now makes Seabourn his ‘home”.  John has a wonderful dry sense of humor that I truly enjoy along with an upbeat persona that is fun…rather than the prototypical cruise director of “always happy”.

For example, the other day during the middle of a Scottish folkloric dance Captain Buer came on with his scheduled 4:30 pm pre-departure announcements.  The dancers were literally in midair when the music stopped and the typically slow Norwegian talk began.  They didn’t know what to do, everyone was laughing (with them, of course)…and then John came racing through the Grand Salon towards them – with a plate of cookies.  It was perfect.

John can and does, on occasion, sing.  And he can sing.  Seabourn, at least on the bigger ships, has the cruise directors do more directing and less entertaining.  John may do a few weeks on one of the little sisters and it will be interesting to see how he likes doing double duty.

The venue entertainment has been really good.  The woman who plays piano and sings has been so good that my wife, who tends to be a bit shy, actually stopped the singer to let her know how wonderful she was and that it was a pleasure to sit and listen to her.  The female singer in The Club is a real talent as well.  It seems that on cruise ships there is an affinity for singing ABBA songs; something this aging rock-n-roller doesn’t care for.  Last evening the singer put a personal spin on an ABBA son g that (heaven forbid) was such that I actually enjoyed it.  The “house band” is also good and is able to play a wide variety of music for all tastes…with taste.

It is great that the old days on Seabourn where there was really not very good entertainment are near gone.  At least this is one man’s opinion.

With the internet access quite poor in this part of the world due to weather (which, by the way, has been quite good – relatively speaking) and location, it can be a bit of a frustration.  With our shipboard adventure almost coming to a close (we disembark on Heimay Island, Iceland tomorrow) I will try to post at least one more time.  Why?  Because today we are supposed to go riding on Icelandic horses…and I don’t know how to ride!  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part VII

Two nights ago started out with a wonderful experience and ended with a disappointing one on the Seabourn Sojourn.

First, the disappointment. The entertainment was, to be honest, bad. The Seabourn singers were amateurish and awkward. I don’t tend to do the shows and this only reinforced my disdain for them. Enough of that.  (Postscript June 12, 2010 - The second show was much improved.  While still not my personal cup of tea, what was both amazing and encouraging were the number of US and UK guests who made a conscious effort - with enthusiasm - to say how improved the second show was.  Possibly a case of opening night jitters??)

Now the wonderful experience: Dinner at the Seabourn Sojourn’s Restaurant 2 was great. For those of you who are not familiar with this unique alternative restaurant (which is provided at no extra cost – Silversea, are you listening?), the concept is to provide a number of small and contrasting “meals” each of which is quite complex. There are no choices and there is no salt or pepper provided. You also dine in the order the food is presented. You might consider this restrictive, but the reality is that it frees you from any thought. You just go with it. The restaurant is modern in black with white and touches of red and each plate is unique and designed to assist with the presentation of each course. In other words, it puts you off balance…in a good way.

Think of a luxury experience…not one of slapping half-cooked meat on a stone (ala Silversea’s Hot Rocks) or oversized portions of commonly cooked steaks or crab (ala Regent Seven Seas Prime 7). Yes, there is a place for everything, but calling something luxury or classy doesn’t make it so. This experience IS luxury and classy!

Our meal started with Crispy Foie Gras with a Port Wine Splash.

This was followed by a plate of three dishes: Lobster Roll with a yogurt and caviar sauce; Bacalito (codfish) Fritter with avocado and tomato sauce; and, Seared Panela Salmon with a white bean salsa and piquillo coulis. At this point the score was 4 great dishes.

Next up was an Oxtail and Manchengo cheese potsticker with a wonderful beef consume; an Asparagus Vanilla Cappuccino (a favorite of mine) and a Mushroom Toast (not my favorite). Now I am thinking what is with Restaurant 2…it seems more like Restaurant 3? And after seven small plates one begins to understand that small amounts of incredibly well prepared food are very satisfying…and enjoyable.

The main course, if you will, was Turbot marinated in sake with Swiss chard and a hazelnut vinaigrette and Braised Veal with mascarpone mash potatoes. Oh, Restaurant 2 now makes sense.

Only three rounds of desserts to go! Limon cello Tiramisu Foam with marinated oranges; then a trio of Dark Chocolate Panache (with a wonderful cookie base), Espresso Citrus Pane Cotta and a condensed milk ice cream. Last but not least: a Kahlua Frappe “shot”.

There was not a portion that was over 2 inches in size or much over an ounce of liquid. Elegant, complex flavors, beautiful presentation and incredibly satisfying.

Yesterday we were in Invergordon, Scotland. We went off on our own. My wife being from Scotland decided that now would be a great time for me to purchase a kilt. That (no photos to follow!) was followed by a short visit to The Dalmore distillery and a “wee dram” of a very nice whisky. After a visit to the local grocery store to stock up on British candies, we walked to the nearby down of Alness where we sought out a haggis supper – haggis deep fried with French fries.

And this is where travel is wonderful. As we are waiting for our “gourmet” lunch at the local chippy (Food Feast) I notice a number of Turkish items on the menu. So I ask if they are from Turkey and the next thing I know my wife (who lived in Turkey) is have a conversation in Turkish about Istanbul! Who would have thunk?! The funniest thing was that when one of the Turks spoke in English he had a pretty good Scottish accent!

And now for another Seabourn moment: The chef called me and said he ran out to buy haggis for me and my wife, so tomorrow for lunch: Haggis, Neeps and Tatties! (He refuses to eat it, but obviously will cook it.) Why lunch? Because friends of ours have ordered a special lamb curry dinner tomorrow evening that we will be joining them for.

Not only is this so totally Seabourn, it is pretty amazing that on a Maiden Voyage things are going so smoothly that special requests are not only not a problem, the chef is going out of his way to create them!

Life is good aboard the yacht known as the Seabourn Sojourn...other than the cold I picked up.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part VI

Today is a sea day; thankfully so! Last evening was the Maiden Voyage celebration.

After an early dinner, we had to be on deck by 8:45 p.m. for the sailaway. Seabourn surprised the guests with the British Royal Marine Band followed by a fireworks display. Considering the large British contingent onboard and Pamela Conover’s British heritage, it was quite touching.

The evening progressed into a bit too much champagne with friends and then the sharing of some reserve whisky that Seabourn arranged as a surprise for another guest until far too late into the night.

But I now digress. It was extremely interesting to be onboard with no other guests. I walked the ship observing the Seabourn crew confidently, but excitedly, getting ready for the Seabourn Sojourn’s first real guests. There were some butterflies obvious, but things proceeded with a very “We know our jobs. We can do this with Seabourn style.” Because there are so many crew from the other ships, and the lessons learned on the Seabourn Odyssey having been integrated, things proceeded almost flawlessly. (I wasn’t given Glenfiddich, but vodka. I mean really!Hahaha.)

Probably the most telling of how well things are going was the Q&A session this morning with Pam Conover. There was not a single complaint…other than wanting Seabourn to some itineraries they don’t do or the discontinuation of others that are loved. Quite a testament indeed. Honestly, I think Pam Conover was presently shocked that not a single negative was uttered.

This afternoon I was treated to a private wine, cured meat and cheese tasting in the Seabourn Sojourn’s main galley. Executive Chef Bjoern Wassmuth and Sommelier Tilmar Pfefferkorn put on quite a show. I am not sure I have them all or are noted correctly, but here goes:

Wines – Barolo DOCG, Cancello del Barone Barolo (2000); Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Antinori; and Graham’s Late Vintage Port.

Meats – Parma ham; salamini mignon (3 types), salami feline, spinata calabra

Cheeses – Taleggio; pecorino paglia fieno, local cow’s milk cheese, an unlabeled cheese wrapped in vine leaves, a wonderful local sheep’s milk cheese; pulgia(?)

It was quite a fun and enjoyable experience among friends.

Tonight is the first formal night. As I have enjoyed the menu on a previous night (the Inaugural), I am dining in Restaurant 2 . I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn Inaugural and Maiden Voyage - Part V

After two days onboard the Seabourn Sojourn I am so very pleased to report (and enjoy) that all seems to be running extremely well.  Everyone from President Pamela Conover to Executive Chef Tony Eggar to the stewardesses and waiters have smiles and confidence in anticipation of the guests who will be arriving in just a few hours for the Maiden Voyage.  It is, honestly, everything Seabourn is about. It is a treat to see it from the "inside" as I get to observe things as both a partner and a guest...but before the guests arrive.

Last night was a charity gala for the 10th Anniversary of Breast Cancer Haven.  I had the true privilege of dining with Howard Frank, the CFO of Carnival Corp. and his wife, Mary.  What wonderful and friendly people.  I anticipated a rather strained and formal evening, but it was anything but that.  We spoke of everything from the start of Carnival and his fondness and respect for Ted Arison to grandchildren to Venetian art history.  The evening was both inspirational and a joy.  It flew by.

After an evening cocktail (or two) at the Sky Bar I retired to my suite.  After my wife fell asleep I just sat on my balcony watching the Thames drinking a nice whisky and smoking a Cohiba one of my dear friends gave me as a bon voyage gift yesterday.  Life is good aboard the yacht!

Starting later today the ship will be up and fully functioning, with all the venues open and cruising guests aboard.  I can't wait.  It does seem a little like Christmas morning...just waiting for everyone to wake up so you can watch them unwrap the presents and see their faces.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Quest of the Seabourn Sojourn - The Inaugural & Maiden Voyage Travelogue - Part IV - The Naming and Inauguration

I am aboard the Seabourn Sojourn and I am happy to report the ship is, well…Ship Shape!

The staff is smiling and on their game with friendly and familiar faces greeting us at the gangway after our short tender ride from the Four Seasons Canary Wharf – the staging area for the very quick boarding process.

The champagne is flowing, the stewardess arrived promptly with more champagne, canapés and a choice of Hermes, L’Occitane or Essence soaps. Our suite (No. 622) is perfectly completed…as is the rest of the ship.

No crew rushing around. No apologies. No making things work. No, the issues with the delivery of the Odyssey are pretty much non-existent. Even the little things, like the deck on my balcony is clean and the trim freshly painted. All the furniture is not only in place, it is all perfectly staged with towels, cushions, awnings, etc.

My stewardess was literally bragging that within four days of arriving in Genoa from the Seabourn Pride the crew area was complete and she was able to move onboard. That allowed her, and the rest of the staff, to get into their routines early and consistently. So they confidently present a polished product right from the start.

I guess I must ask myself, “Why am I even mentioning the problems with the delivery of the Seabourn Odyssey?” And I guess the answer is because the delivery of the Seabourn Sojourn shows, once again, why I am such a believer in Seabourn. Seabourn may not be perfect, but the people of Seabourn will do everything they can to make it so.

I have notice a few changes/improvements; most of which are quite subtle (such as the elimination of the large silver “walls” at the rear of the Grand Salon – what a difference!), but the Spa has really been improved in a few significant ways. I will discuss these in a later post – with specifics – but the focus has been on delivering a consistent product at the highest levels of quality.

I was going to delay in describing the Inaugural Events because I don't want to ruin anything for those attending the charity event tonight or the Maiden Voyage events, but I have been told that other in the UK have published some of the details.  Soooo, with the preface that it is pretty hard to get Iamboatman to tear up, there were quite a few watery eyes last night.  It started with a wonderful cocktail party on deck in 75 degree weather which included beautiful flower arrangements everywhere...including the center of the pool....a huge martini ice bar (complete with Seabourn insignia) and wonderful passed tastes. 

Twiggy was announced and made her grand entrance, followed by her brief and very classy speech including the requisite, "This is My Yacht" and a bottle of champagne ran on a line running from the forward mast to a plague christening the Seabourn Sojourn.

After a wonderful dinner - flawless service and with great cuisine (my halibut was perfect, but Bjoern is the chef!), it was back to the pool deck for the big event.  A quartet of beautiful women played some incredible upbeat classical music that was mesmerizing.  Then, with the strings in full crescendo...Fireworks.  And the fireworks were seemingly times to the music.  It was, without question, very emotional.

It was, without question, very Seabourn.  A new, more energized and youthful Seabourn.

As I dine, drink and am entertained I will write more. But for now, if you are booked on the Sojourn you can rest easy (and with positive excitement). If you have been waiting to book because you were concerned about the shape of the ship on delivery…wait no more.  I feel like I am on one of my flawless Seabourn cruises and that the Quest has been very, very successful.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn - She Is Ready For Her Close-Up!

I have heard from the Seabourn Sojourn and have been advised she is beautiful and "completely ready"!

For any of you considering a Northern European cruise this summer, but were afraid to consider the Sojourn after the problems associated with the delivery of the Seabourn Odyssey, you may want to consider booking now.

I have some incredible fares available with my Private Sale that are very limited and extraordinary values.  Don't complain when you wait and there is no availability. But if you are still not sure, think about it for a couple of days and I will let you know from my personal observations as I board her on June 4th for nine days.

You know me:  I am always available!