Sailing across Southeast Asia's waters on Seabourn Ovation means exploring in style, as I’ve learned on a voyage the past two weeks between Singapore and Hong Kong.
This 600-passenger ship can best be described as a lovely enclave of luxury with stellar, genuine service and friendly smiles. Guests are happy, as a result. That makes for a pleasing, relaxed onboard aura.
I talked about the excellent service in my last blog so won't rehash that point here (although it is "the top" feature). So, what else do I love about the ship and experience?
Here are five more things for clients to consider when choosing a cruise vacation.
No Nickel and Diming
Seabourn's highly inclusive fares mean no one is pulling out their key card and signing for this or that when it comes to drinks. Yes, it’s a more robust fare up front, but there are more inclusions. So, the onboard aura is relaxing.
It was nice to order a frozen pina colada at the pool with no paperwork and no bill coming later. It's also easier on the crew, allowing them to focus on service -- not billing.
Yes, of course, there are some specialty experiences for an added fee, such as a $100 fine champagne tasting experience, limited to 12 guests, and hosted by the head sommelier. Plus, spa services and shore trips require a fee.
But again, no one is signing paperwork at the table for drinks. Gratuities and other perks too are included within the cruise fare. As a result, it's an easy, breezy vacation once guests are sailing.
Dining Choices Galore
I’m amazed at how challenging it's been nightly to decide where to go for dinner. This ship has an appealing array of choices for its size.
Guests can opt for everything from Thomas Keller’s The Grill to Sushi (see one of our previous Exploring Asia blogs for more about this venue), from the Colonnade (which might serve Vietnamese cuisine one night and a barbecue themed dinner the next) to the casual, exterior Earth and Ocean, and the elegant main dining room, The Restaurant. Plus, there is 24-hour room service too.
Definitely clients should be advised to sign up for Thomas Keller's The Grill prior to boarding or immediately after boarding. It's a popular upscale venue with strong attention to culinary detail and no "overcrowding" within the venue.
Overall, this specialty restaurant wows by serving classic dishes with a creative, modern twist. The thickly cut ribeye steak with red wine au jus sauce turned out to be the best of that type I've ever had.
I also enjoyed the sides I chose -- yummy mushrooms and Keller's savory "take" on mac-and-cheese, designed for two.
Keller's approach to the eatery is also unusual; while it's a high-end spot with lovely service, it's also casual in its own quirky way. It has a convivial, but not stuffy, vibe in both its bar and restaurant, and some rather unusual music: past and present tunes, played during dinner.
I must admit I was a bit taken back to hear Tom Jones' "Delilah" and, even more so, the strains of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen."
Some guests told me they felt the music was "a bit odd," but they loved the whole experience anyway.
Another plus? Thomas Keller has created dishes for menus elsewhere around the ship too, including a wonderful clam bake-themed dinner one evening in Colonnade.
See the photo above of my tasty endive salad. The entree was the clam bake entree, which included Manila clams, Nova Scotia lobster, gulf prawns, sweet corn, spinach and a red bliss potato that's in the photo at the top of this story. The meal was completed with Pecorino di Roma cheese with vanilla-poached apricots and "looney bin" crackers, with lemon bars for dessert.
For room service, guests have always available choices, plus they can order off the Restaurant menu during normal dinner hours.
I was traveling solo, so it was also nice to find daily invitations to dinner in my slat just outside my suite door. Each invite was for a table in The Restaurant or The Colonnade that was hosted by this or that crew member -- everyone from the chief purser, Ann-Cathrin Nilsson from Sweden, to singers, dancers, the chief housekeeper and a guest conversationalist, among others.
The table of invitees consisted of both solo guests but also couples, and never the same people. Clearly, the staff rotated guests so everyone could meet new people.
Of course, guests are free to accept or decline, as I did some nights. But it was nice to have the option.
It's also another way Seabourn subtly helps guests bond with the crew.
Finding the Sun
Cruise ships, big and small, typically have the issue of guests “saving” lounge chairs all day at the pool by putting their things down and then disappearing for hours to do something else. Meanwhile, guests seeking lounge chairs at the pool can't find any open ones.
While Seabourn does have language in guest information to discourage the practice of reserving chairs, it also approaches this in another really nifty way. In the suite is a helpful "Looking for Sun?" guide to sunny spots around the ship.
It opens to reveal a deck plan with those sunny spots clearly marked. I loved the information contained in the guide.
My favorite discovery was this "secret spot" below on Deck 7 forward (see photo below).
I headed up to photograph it one sunny day at sea (when, at the same time, the pool deck was packed), and I found only two people at this Deck 7 space; they were resting or reading atop the loungers.
No one was using the whirlpool, plus there were plenty of empty loungers.
Sir Tim Rice’s Entertainment
Seabourn has a partnership with Sir Tim Rice, who is the lyricist for such Broadway hits as the Lion King, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. In a highly creative performance in The Grand Salon, the Seabourn Singers and Dancers put on quite an amazing show (very talented voices).
What's unusual is that technology blends with live entertainment. So at various points, Sir Tim “walks onto the stage” and talks to the audience about his theatrical and musical career, the stories behind the songs' creation, and the next number to come.
On our cruise, we enjoyed such "live performance" numbers as "I Don't Know How to Love Him," from Jesus Christ Superstar, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from the Lion King, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita and "One Night in Bangkok" from Chess, among many others.
It’s an unusual and fun approach to the subject matter and exclusively produced by Belinda King Creative Productions. Apparently, Sir Tim himself actually may show up in person from time to time to surprise guests.
During our show, he was there in spirit only via the technology, but as one woman said to me, "I knew it was a techie thing, but kept thinking, 'he almost looks as though he's there on stage.'"
That said, while I loved the entertainment, it's best to get your seat early, as those coming in late will find a packed house for this show, plus available seating at that point may have a pole blocking part of the stage view.
In addition to a good range of shore options (which I took in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Sihanoukville, Cambodia, among other spots), the line operated complimentary shuttle bus service throughout the day or evening in some destinations, including downtown Ho Chi Minh City or Hanong City.
An overnight in Ho Chi Minh City also provided accessibility for those desiring to go ashore for evening entertainment, drinks or dining.