Saturday, June 4, 2011

Roman Around: The Pre-Inaugural of the Seabourn Quest - Part III

Today we are off to board the brand new Seabourn Quest on her Inaugural cruise. After a nice breakfast we take a taxi to meet the Seabourn shuttle to the port of Civitavecchia. After dealing with a protest and march (riot gear included) we were – a few miles later - were warmly greeted, advised of our suite number...since I left for Sardinia before the cruise documents arrived (happily hearing "Suite 917" – a Penthouse!) and then boarded a warm bus (broken air conditioning) for our one hour drive to the ship.

We arrive, sweaty but happy, and then it must have taken me half an hour to board; not because there were any lines or difficulties, but because there were so many Seabourn folks that were so genuinely happy to see me…like finding a friendly face in the crowd. Chef Bjoern, and John Barron appear, and then Chris Prelog and then…and then, of course, the infamous, “I remember you being taken off the Seabourn Sojourn in a pilot boat”…and then Bruce Good and then the staff. Put another way, Seabourn is Seabourn and it is home. Don’t worry about that for a minute. 

It was, in a way, great for the new Seabourn management to see what “Seabourn” really means. I mean theory is one thing, but reality is another thing…and this was, to be sure, their first taste of "my" Seabourn reality.

We have a quick lunch in the Colonnade of salmon with bok choi, some really good vegetable curry and, of course, a few other wonderful tastes. The wine steward goes through about 5 different wines being offered and I “settle” on a very nice French Chardonnay with a very light oak aging. It is yet again like coming home, but I notice the new staff is more affirmative in "being Seabourn" than I have previously experienced on the Odyssey and Sojourn inaugurals. Game On!

And then one of those little things that let's you know Seabourn is, well, Seabourn:  One staff member comes up to me and proudly says, “Did you notice the difference in the Colonnade’s chairs?” I say “No” to which he replies, “We found that the weave of the prior chairs caught the jackets of some of our guests, so these chairs have a slightly different material and weave to avoid that.” So if you think Seabourn is no longer looking at the little things, Fuggedaboudit…as we say.

I also noticed that the pool and lounge towels are now beige, rather than white.  I presume that it was a smart decision to cut down on the use of bleach and, therefore, reduced laundering times which saves not only time and money (efficiency in business!), but is good for the environment.  (I also think it looks a bit classier.)

Being honest, as I am…so you know what I am telling you is always true…we finally arrive at our Penthouse suite and find it has no air conditioning.  After the less than cool bus ride this is not good. But, and it is a big but, Seabourn quickly moves us to another suite, Suite 923. What is amazing is that, as I observed this, Seabourn moved us literally drawer by drawer. Separate wicker baskets for Drawer 1, Drawer 2, etc. But what really blew me away was that my ties were placed in the tie holders in exactly the same order they were in our first suite. Remember this is the first time guests were on this ship and the service was flawless! (My effort: Zero.  The staff would not let us help!)

The sailaway was nice, but I have to admit there was a bit of an homage to Holland America…it seemed so awkward (do I sound like a teenager?) because everything else was so Seabourn as you know it.

I dined this evening with the John Delaney, the Senior Vice President. Representatives from Ensemble Travel Group (of which I am a member) and Virtuoso were there. (OK, the Virtuoso rep has miniature donkeys and we have miniature horses, so he is a good guy!) There was no special dinner…except that every dinner on Seabourn is special. I had to have the Goat Cheese Soufflé, followed by Beef Carpaccio and the Lobster Tails. Dessert was the trio of Crème Brulee with a nice tawny port. Mama, I am home. (Did I mention this before?)  BTW, we dined with a couple that is new to Seabourn, but has sailed on the other luxury lines.  They were amazed at how much better Seabourn's cuisine was both from presentation and portion size.  And they did fall in love with the breadsticks.

After dinner we went to see the show. All I will say is I heard “Holland America” and there was a slight hush in the audience.  The entertainment was not my cup of tea.  It was not bad, just not to my liking.

Folks, they are trying really hard to be sure nobody thinks Seabourn is HAL, but there is an overlap that as long as it is under control has to be accepted. I can deal with the 40% off for spa treatments, rather than complimentary, and being flown economy rather than business… I mean I am a "just" travel agent, so why should Seabourn pay for me to fly business class or give my wife a free massage?  I am serious.  I think that Seabourn being run more as a business is essential to making sure that your - The Guest - experience remains the best at sea.  And if being cooperative with the resources of HAL makes sense, and it does, the little slips here or there don't bother me; so please do not let it bother you.

What is essential is that you, my readers and Seabourn’s guests, have no sense of HAL…and other than the slip of the tongue there is no sense of it onboard. I PROMISE.

There are some really interesting things in the works that I cannot expand upon, but what I can tell you is that enrichment programs Seabourn is working on are really exciting and a new guest loyalty program with real benefits starting at something like thirty days (no promises on that) are in the works.

So with the smell of freshly oiled teak, the enthusiasm of the Seabourn Quest’s crew and what is, incredibly, the pleasure of a relatively light meal (compared to my Sardinian adventure) I can sincerely tell you the Seabourn Quest may be the youngest of the big sisters, but she is a refined and as ‘Seabourn” as both her twins and her smaller triplet sisters.  Did I mention I have air conditioning?

Life is good…no, incomparable…on a Seabourn cruise!