Thursday, January 26, 2017

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part X (The Grill by Thomas Keller: Order the Chicken!)

Seabourn Encore's The Grill by Thomas Keller is the most elegant, thoughtfully laid out, enjoyable and...well you get the on any cruise ship I have ever been on (or, for that matter, have seen).  Oh, and the cuisine, cocktails, music and service is pretty spectacular too.

Eric Goldring with Thomas Keller
in The Grill by Thomas Keller on the Seabourn Encore
(If you look carefully you will see I ordered the chicken!)
My conversation about The Grill combines my experiences on the Seabourn Quest this past August 2016 and the Seabourn Encore earlier this month (January 2017).  Because it is a Thomas Keller  operation (the three star Michelin chef) consistency is key, so the photographs and comments regarding both experiences are relevant.  (And note that I have dined in The Grill a total of ten times, so my comments are based upon far more than a one time experience.)

Order the Chicken!
You can have all the ambiance and service you want, but you are
at The Grill by Thomas Keller to have a culinary experience
A Story First

Before I explain The Grill in detail, I must tell you the story of Thomas Keller and my chicken while on the Seabourn Encore.

For me the chicken is the best item on the menu.  The extraordinary flavor was burned into my culinary memory when I dined at Bouchon in Napa Valley and ordered the Poulet Rôti.  So it became a "thing" between me and The Grill's Executive Chef Tom (ironically) who has been trained by Mr. Keller to always "slip" me an order of chicken no matter what I ordered, even though it is supposed to be served to two people.

My first evening in The Grill on the Seabourn Encore was with two clients/friends of mine.  We all decided to order the chicken; an odd number.  We also had a "discussion" about which wine paired best with the famous chicken.  Over my client's objection we ordered a Chassagne Montrachet.

As we were dining, Thomas Keller came over to our table to have a chat and noticed three (rather than two) dishes with chicken and queried how that was possible (being the consistency maven that he is).  My client said, "We know someone."  As Mr. Keller went to congratulate my client, he was rebuffed, "No, Eric knows someone!"

A bit surprised Mr. Keller then asked, "And what wine have you paired with the chicken?"  When I told him, he gave a very approving nod and offered me a fist bump!  I turned to my client and, with my best Jersey accent said, "Just sayin'!"

In other words, have fun with and in The Grill.  It is worth it.

OK, now for what you have been waiting for...

Seabourn Encore's The Grill by Thomas Keller Experience

Your experience in The Grill on the Seabourn Encore does not start in the dining room, but rather in a wonderful upscale and comfortable space that combines a bar - focused on specialty cocktails and mixology marvels created by Brian Van Flandern (who was the head mixologist for Thomas Keller's Per Se) and taught to the Seabourn bartenders - and a piano/cocktail lounge.

The Bar in The Grill by Thomas Keller
on the Seabourn Encore

Comfortable sofas and chairs near both The Bar and the pianist
makes for your initial time in The Grill by Thomas Keller
both upscale and relaxing
From liquors to glassware The Bar and Lounge set the stage for a wonderful evening.  And, of course, the fantastic wine collection is attractively displayed!

Adam Tihany, the interior designer who has a special relationship
with Thomas Keller and his restaurants, loves to display
wines in creative glass wine cellars.
Your dining experience is definitely an American cuisine experience, fashioned as a play off of a steakhouse.  I will tell you that the portions are American sized, but please do not let that put you off. The choice and cuts of meats are such that smaller portions simply would not come out with the same flavors.  (Yes, I know generally "American cuisine" is not the first thing many of Seabourn's European guests would select, but keep an open mind.  The cuisine is "that" good.)

The Grill by Thomas Keller's tables are simply, but elegantly, set.
The cuisine is the focus.
One thing I noticed on the Seabourn Encore is that the tables are set sufficiently apart so that you are able to enjoy your own, personal, dining experience; a nice touch.  (On the Seabourn Quest, due to the smaller space the tables are closer together.)

When seated you are served super-crisp crudités with a Green Goddess dip along with wonderful bread and butter.

Your starter (appetizer) ranges from a Caesar Salad made tableside, to artichoke to crab cakes and more.  Again, the focus is on presenting clean, simple, but exceptionally well prepared, dishes made with only the finest ingredients.  And Thomas Keller assures only the truly "finest ingredients" are used and prepared specifically as he desires.  (Seabourn has made a significant investment not only in the ingredients, but in specially designed galleys dedicated to Mr. Keller's menu items.)

The Grill's Executive Chef Tom prepares a Caesar Salad tableside
Simple, but delicious, cold Artichoke

Super-Chilled Iceberg Lettuce Salad with Bacon

Crab Cake - I highly recommend it!
Your main course can be as light as Dover Sole (not actually a Thomas Keller dish) or as rich as Veal T-Bone, Pork or Rib-Eye Steak

Dessert is about as American, and delicious, as one can get.  Ice Cream Sundae, Lemon Meringue Pie or Coconut Cake are some examples.

Executive Chef Tom making an Ice Cream Sundae tableside
(chocolate & caramel sauce!)

A petite Lemon Meringue Pie 

Coconut Cake

After dinner, with the piano player singing and the bar humming, you are drawn back to this wonderful area...if you are not heading off to see one of the Seabourn shows.  (By the way, the entertainment on the Seabourn Encore is significantly improved.  I actually went to every show...but more on that in my next article!).

Bon Appetite!

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:        020 8133 3450
Australia:                    (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:       +1 530-562-9232

Or email us at

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part IX (The Retreat)

Seabourn has really promoted The Retreat, a private spa-ish area on Deck 11 of the Seabourn Encore. And, to be honest, I was a bit baffled by Seabourn even thinking about such a concept as the Seabourn Odyssey-class ships has the Garden Villas (two large, private, spa-ish areas) that nobody ever really booked...and which, fortunately, were converted into what I think are the best suites on those ships: Penthouse Spa Suites.  

So with a bit of skepticism, but an open mind, I began to wander up to Deck 11 to check The Retreat out. But before I could get there Seabourn asked me if I would spend a day there, really working out The Retreat and telling them what I thought and what could be done to improve them.  This told me two things:  The Retreat obviously is not perfect; and, Seabourn is focused on making design ideas that maybe aren't working out modified...rather than insisting "All Is Well!" (noting my reference to the ultimate chaos scene in the movie "Animal House"; No, it is not that bad!). 

Seabourn Encore's The Retreat Concept
Bird's Eye View
And this is where you will again know I am honest with my readers:  I am baffled by the space.  That said, it can be an asset if there are changes.  Otherwise I see it as a sore point that will have more negative than positive impacts on the overall Seabourn product.  Fortunately, Seabourn seems to be viewing it in a similar light.

Seabourn Encore's The Retreat
Actual view from a cabana
The space itself is aesthetically pleasing.  There are cabanas on all four sides of this square area with a separate bar and a massage cabana.  In the middle is a large spa.  In front of each cabana are two lounge chairs. Over the top of all of this is a very pretty awning. This gives the feeling of a courtyard, but I believe it tries to do too much.

In each cabana you have an L-shaped sofa, coffee table, a cabinet with a big screen television atop it (which is supposed to be utilized only with the supplied blue tooth headphones), a table with two chairs and two chaise lounges.  A ceiling fan turns above.  Mesh curtains can be closed to give you some, but not total, privacy.

I am not a fan of a television being included in The Retreat cabanas
even if they have Bluetooth headphones
You are provided towels and robes as well as The Retreat flip flops you are welcome to keep.  (I am not sure about the flip flops because presumably are wearing something similar when walking there.)

You are welcomed by very nice fruit platter, a bottle of Bollinger champagne waiting in the wings for your request and a The Retreat menu for when you get hungry.

The Seabourn Encore's The Retreat welcomes you with a fruit platter
and champagne be filled with the included bottle of
Bollinger champagne
There is dedicated staff (assistants and bartender) who regularly make the rounds with various flavors of water and tropical cocktails, but - as this is Seabourn - you may order pretty much anything you like.

As I settled in, enjoying the interesting lighting, my fruit platter and (you knowing me, this wasn't going to last very long) spa-like water, I reviewed The Retreat's menu.  Missing from the menu (but fortunately not from Seabourn):  Caviar.  So with a quick wave to Francesca ("my" fantastic assistant...and also "my" waiter in The Grill by Thomas Keller) I ordered up my champagne and caviar.

I'm now feeling pretty chill and Seabourn-like...and then I look up and see on one of those big screen televisions Fox News and constant pictures of Donald Trump.  Now, I don't care what your political views are, when I am in a serene area sipping champagne and indulging in a significant amount of caviar there are certain things I should not be subjected to.  I start with a television; especially not my television (and I had absolutely no use for the one in my cabana) nor, follow on, by an omnipresent picture of a politician; especially a not terribly attractive one. (OK, maybe Uncle Joe Biden would be acceptable, but that is even a reach.)

In order to break the view up I hop into the hot tub, facing the other way (of course) and am pleased to find that due to the height the spa you cannot really see into the other cabanas, so I reorient myself so as to catch some sun.

However, there is one thing missing:  A view of the ocean.  I am on a Seabourn cruise and I should be able to see the water!  Personally, I hope they remove two cabanas on each side so that everyone can see the water.

Because this The Retreat and, of course, I was working with the charge that I try everything:  I requested a massage in the massage cabana. A Big Hiccup!  The spa is booked out, but with not a single massage in The Retreat.

Seabourn Encore's The Retreat Spa Cabana
And this is where the Seabourn staff truly impresses me!  Not one, but two, of the Seabourn staff offered to give me the massage. One even went to her supervisor to get permission.  I tell people all the time that Seabourn service is beyond compare and that the staff is specifically hired and trained to take ownership of issues and find solutions; not to just do a job.  This offer was, well and truly, above and beyond the call of duty!

Well, permission was not granted (which I fully understand), but I wasn't told that until a solution was obtained:  A cancellation in the spa afforded me an opening.

I believe Seabourn should have a certain number of spa appointments made available for each day.  If you are going to use The Retreat you should have the option to book a massage at that time or, possibly, even by 10:00 AM of the day of use. (Certainly you would need to be flexible as to timing of your treatment, though.)

As I prepared for my massage I noticed that the massage cabana does not have solid curtains; only the same mesh ones. Not being terribly shy I was OK with this, but whether undressing or having your massage, privacy curtains should be provided.

I was drifting off as I was getting pummeled by request (Deep Tissue Massage) and then:  The occupants of the cabana next to me - I guess assuming they were the only remaining guests - took their television off of Bluetooth and I got blasted with the sound of some action movie. Seriously? While that was quickly quelled (first by them turning it down, and then my insisting they turn it off), it is a second reason I cannot fathom televisions being provided in The Retreat.  It was, alas, a rather abrupt way to end my day in The Retreat.

Overall I had a good experience in the Seabourn Encore's The Retreat, but I do have another objection.  Seabourn is (at least presently) charging $350 per day to use this area...and it gives you a $50 discount in the spa.  This is very UN-Seabourn.  I do not believe there should be a charge for this area; though I do believe it should somehow first be made available to Penthouse Spa Suite or better guests and then to other guests on a first come-first served basis; limiting its use (as with The Grill by Thomas Keller) to once per cruise unless there is additional availability.  And lose the $50 off coupon!

So the Seabourn Encore's The Retreat has potential to be a wonderful experience...but it needs some adjustments.  (And, yes, I had a number of other suggestions on how to improve The Retreat experience, but those are between Seabourn and least for now.)

Seabourn will be making adjustments, so stay tuned!

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:            (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

Or email us at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part VIII (Seabourn Ventures Expands- Komodo Island, Indonesia)

Seabourn started its Seabourn Ventures program on the Seabourn Quest with its very popular Antarctica sailings and then expended it to include the fjords of Norway and then the British Isles.

With the introduction of the Seabourn Encore, Seabourn is making an effort to expand its Seabourn Ventures program, but with a bit of a softer touch, so that more guests can enjoy it (and, to be honest, to create an environment where guests overestimate their abilities can safely and comfortably enjoy some adventure instead of just a normal tour).

Having previously visited Komodo Island, Indonesia and its famous dragons, I took the opportunity to try out the Seabourn Ventures' kayaking and then some snorkeling at Pink Beach.  The "venture" truly became an Ad-venture...and the Venture leaders did an excellent job reacting and keeping us safe.  But let's start at the beginning...

We anchored off of Komodo Island and were transferred by zodiac to a beach.  This gave me an opportunity to see how guests transfer to zodiacs from the Seabourn Encore...and it could not be safer or easier.

Seabourn Encore's Seabourn Ventures zodiacs
are extremely easy to board.
A short zodiac ride and we arrived at a quiet beach where the Ventures team had already staged the very comfortable and stable kayaks.

My friend Seabourn Ventures's Tua, gives me a warm welcome!

High quality single and double Wavesport kayaks are used
I shared my kayak with my new friend, Linda; a great kayaking partner...if you wanted to laugh a lot, but do most of the paddling.  (As she said, "If we were married, we would be divorced." and as I said, "No, I would be dead!".)  In other words, we had a great time.

I also met a really wonderful family from Australia including an absolutely charming mother with her lovely 12 year old daughter that also had a great time kayaking.  (Anyway, back to the story!)

But our great time had a bit of excitement.  As you can see from the photograph above, the water was almost a flat calm...and then, literally instantly, the water started rushing in (essentially a true tidal wave) creating rapids, eddies and whirlpools.  It came out of nowhere.

Fairly calm waters turned a bit turbulent, but the Seabourn Ventures
team saw it would get worse...
The Seabourn Ventures leader in the kayak immediately told us to paddle to a small island into calm water and the rescue zodiac (driven by my Cook Islander friend, Tua) was there almost instantly. With Tua literally being an expert at reading waters they took stock, made a plan, loaded us into the zodiac and delivered us...kayaks in Pink Beach, safe and sound.

...and it quickly did

Tua.  You will remember him!
Safely delivered to Pink Beach it was time to snorkel.  But before I get to those photographs, I must tell you the story of my plight to get a beer.

Pink Beach, Komodo Island, Indonesia

The Indonesian government would not allow Seabourn to provide any food or drinks other than water on the beach...and after saving Linda's life by guiding our kayak to the shelter of that island...having a beer did not look good.

However, some locals arrived and set up "shop" with some trinkets and, fortunately, beer.  But, alas, I had no money with me.  (Who knew I would need any?)   So Tua saved me a second time, loaning me 100,000 rupiah (or about US$7.00) so I could purchase a cold (actually merely not hot) beer.

The local woman - after negotiations - agreed to sell me two beers for the 100,000 rupiah but did not have a bottle opener.  She pretended to look for a bottle opener and then she handed me a rock. When that didn't work, she paused and then OPENED THE BEERS WITH HER TEETH!!!  Unbelievable and, frankly, quite impressive!

The coolest, if not coldest, beer I have ever enjoyed.
The local woman I bought it from opened it with her teeth!
I also enjoyed some really good snorkeling.  If the sun was fully out it would have been spectacular.

All in all Seabourn Encore's Seabourn Ventures program provided a very professional, diverse, safe and fun experience for young and old(er)!

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

Or email us at

Seabourn Encore: The Inaugural Cruise - Part VII (Sushi)

I have to admit that before boarding the Seabourn Encore I thought Sushi, it’s new Japanese restaurant – and a first for Seabourn – was going to be just another sushi restaurant.  I was, well and truly, wrong.  It is, to my mind, one of the best dining experiences at sea and, quite possibly, cuisine at a higher level than even Seabourn’s The Grill by Thomas Keller.

Sushi - a Seabourn Encore-class only venue - is the “baby” of Tony Eggert, Seabourn’s long time culinary guru, who is extremely passionate about his child!  Sushi is a rather plain restaurant with simple white furnishings with hints of purple that seats about two dozen people plus another six or so at the sushi bar.  Why is this no extra cost restaurant so simple and the seating so limited?  Because the cuisine is the focus.  Even the details to accentuate the cuisine are subtle.

Seabourn Encore's Sushi
Seabourn Encore’s Sushi is open for lunch and dinner, but with two distinct menus:  Bento Boxes for lunch and a full sushi menu (but no bento boxes) at dinner.  The details are so carefully crafted that even the chopsticks used at lunch and dinner are different…so that you can change your chopsticks as you change your sashimi or nigiri selections.

Bento boxes are either Teriyaki Chicken, Miso Salmon or Vegetarian.  Each comes with miso soup, a green mixed salad, pickled vegetables, sesame rice and, of course, your main.  I tried the chicken and salmon options.  (One guest offered to me that he felt the chicken was superior to the famous roasted chicken offered at the Seabourn Encore’s The Grill by Thomas Keller, which I will explore in another article.)

Seabourn Encore's Sushi - Teriyaki Chicken Bento Box
with Japanese beer

Seabourn Encore's Sushi - Miso Salmon Bento Box
with cold sake
Dinner has a wide variety of offerings:  sashimi (no rice), nigiri (commonly called sushi), maki (rolls with seaweed on the outside) and rolls.  Vegetarian options are also available. 

Seabourn Encore's Sushi offers Salmon Tataki at its finest
Do not underestimate the cost or quality of the fish because it is on a cruise ship (and, in my instance, in the remote area of Indonesia).  I was truly impressed not only by the variety of fish, but the quality.  You probably heard the term “sushi quality”.  Well that doesn’t really mean anything.  (Ever had uninspired or bad sushi?) Virtually all of the fish is purchased in Japan and – in the Japanese tradition – flash frozen with facilities right on board.  There are very few land-based restaurants that serve such high quality fare.

 What the Seabourn Encore sushi chefs do to prepare the fish means even more.  For example, salmon is usually not my favorite fish (especially for sashimi – no rice).  However, the salmon at Sushi is carefully salted and then washed to remove the oils that make salmon not only oily in texture, but leaves a coating in your mouth…interfering with your subsequent offerings.

A high quality sake is offered (either hot or cold) along with a nice variety of appropriate wines to pair with your dining experience.

Sushi's cold sake is creatively presented
in an ice filled wooden box
Sushi has a team of Japanese chefs that are not only fantastic talents, but exceptionally nice.  They do interact with you if you sit at the bar and have the ability to make their own creations if asked.

The staff, which includes both Japanese and European staff, are extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  They not only give you a warm welcome and excellent service, they happily explain what each type of offering is available and the differences between them, so you should have no fear or intimidation if your visit to the Seabourn Encore’s Sushi is one of your first such experiences.

Seabourn Encore's Sushi offers
a variety of rolls
As little suggestion:  Sushi opens a bit earlier (at 6:45 p.m.) than the rest of the Seabourn Encore dining venues.  If you like to dine a bit later, as I do, stop by the Sushi bar for an early bite with some sake before dinner.

Interested in a Seabourn cruise? Give Goldring Travel a call or drop me an email

United States:             (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:       020 8133 3450
Australia:                   (07) 3102 4685

Everywhere Else:      +1 530-562-9232

or email me at