Month: February 2018

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn Cruises: what are they like?

Seabourn is one of 4 or 5 providers of “luxury cruises,” where the level of service is very high: the price is pretty much all-inclusive. In Seabourn’s case, this means that gratuities are included as is all food and drink. (If you order a whole bottle of premium wine, you pay for it, but this is about the only cost.) Excursions are not included. Seabourn’s ships are rather small: most carry only 450-600 passengers, so you get exceptional service and attention.

We found the experience delightful and of high quality from beginning to end: our Caribbean cruise began on Barbados, and ended there, too, a week later. From the moment we arrived at the ship terminal, Seabourn personnel took over, welcoming us and taking our bags to be delivered to our suite. They quickly produced scannable ID cards that would open our rooms and served as identification to get on and off the ship, and sent us to the gangway with instructions to go to the 8th deck for lunch at the Colonade.  Lunch was more or less buffet style, but our waiter promised to bring us the food himself if we preferred, along with some nice wine.

After lunch we went to our room. We were greeted by our room stewardess, who helped us with anything we asked for. In fact, to our surprise, our luggage was already there.  Most rooms on Seabourn ships have a King sized bed or two single beds, a sitting area with TV, a veranda, a walk-in closet with ample storage, a bath with a two sink vanity, and a separate tub and shower stall.

We were on the Seabourn Odyssey, but the Seabourn Sojourn and Quest are essentially identical. Most of the rooms are 300 square feet, with a 65 square foot veranda.

Food on Seabourn cruises is uniformly excellent: the ship provides 5 dining options:  the less formal Colonade, the main Restaurant, which serves 4 course dinners every evening, the Patio by the pool, which serves pizza, burgers and similar fare, and the Grill by Thomas Keller which we’ll write about separately. Room service is also available 24 hours at no charge.

The  Pool area is a great place to relax both in the sun and in shaded areas, and in addition to the actual pool, there are two very nice whirlpools. The ship has 4 more such whirlpools on other decks, and these are terrific for relaxing after a tiring excursion. And, of course, the waiters are happy to bring you any drinks you might like.

pool

Service on Seabourn is uniformly excellent: and since there are only 459 passengers, the staff soon has learned your names and some of your preferences. Our waiter brought us one coffee, one tea and two glasses of orange juice every day before even taking our breakfast order. And since we had to vacate our rooms early on our last day, our room stewardess offered to bring us breakfast in bed.

While Seabourn’s offices are in Seattle, these are European ships with European electrical outlets, and only two US outlets in the suites: one in the bathroom for a razor and one on a little vanity shelf, while we charged our cell phones. There are no outlets near the bed and no US outlets near the desk for plugging in a laptop. However, the staff quickly provided a US extension cord for our needs. You might bring a European to US adapter with you.

There are more entertainment events than you can possibly attend: there was a cooking demo on making a Vietnamese fish stew by the head chef, and there are lectures on the geology of the islands you are visiting. The Seabourn Singers and dancers provide highly competent pop music performances and even one called Opera Favorites (if you believe Lloyd-Webber is opera). They also had a superb jazz combo and singer.

One silly Seabourn tradition is Caviar in the Surf, where the crew, dressed in whites stands in the surf handing out plates of caviar. However, because of rough seas, we could not take the water shuttles to land on Mayreau. So the crew set up the caviar ceremony in the pool, followed by the lobster barbecue. Brilliant improvisation!

WiFi is available for 40 cents a minute or for a flat weekly fee of $239. We only used it to check for news from our family and the minute charge was a better deal. The ship’s free internal WiFi allows you to check the ship’s daily schedule as well as to read a number of newspapers on line using the PressReader app, which you should install before you leave home.

While we spent most mornings on some sort of tour of the islands we visited: Guadeloupe, Nevis, Martinique, Grenada, Tobago and Barbados, we rested in the afternoons in a whirlpool and reading on our veranda.  This was for us an absolutely ideal vacation.  The prices on Seabourn are a little higher than on the larger mass-market cruise lines, but when you consider that gratuities and all food and drink are included, this is really a very good deal. And the service is simply superb.

sunset

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HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

HomeAdvisor: is it worth it?

As many of you know, HomeAdvisor has been blitzing the airwaves with their service to find contractors for  home improvement projects. So it was not unreasonable that we try them out when we found that we had 3 projects that we wanted carried out while we were on vacation last summer and our dog boarded so he wasn’t in their way.

We’ll tell you about our 3 contractors (2 great, one not) our experiences with HomeAdvisor and how contractors feel about dealing with them.

The floors and rugs: excellent job

We had our hardwood floors redone about 20 years ago and the finish has begun to wear off, and dirt was ground into the heavily trafficked areas.  We interviewed 3 contractors and settled on one of the more expensive ones, because they would move and replace all the furniture. Since we were redoing 4 rooms, there was no way we could to it for them because there just wasn’t room for all the furniture in the other rooms. The contractor we selected, Custom Floor Installations of Lake Carmel, NY, did an excellent job in all respects. We returned from vacation to beautiful new-looking floors, with all the furniture where it belonged. Five Stars.

Since we were having the floors redone, we also wanted two oriental carpets cleaned as well, and we hired Poohbear Rug Cleaning (also known as PJ’s) to take the carpets away and return them when we came back. They picked them up the day before we left, and brought them back the weekday after we returned. The rugs were clean and they put them back in place perfectly. Also Five Stars.

The driveway

We also decided to have our asphalt driveway sealed: another job best done when the dog is away. From three contractors, we selected Driveway Doctor of Bridgeport, explaining that we wanted the work done during the second week we were away. Scott quoted a fairly low price and promised to patch several holes with asphalt before sealing, and do it during the second week. He didn’t. In fact, he called that week to ask how our vacation had been. He hadn’t started and thought we were back. I told him it needed to be done by that Saturday when we returned.  It wasn’t.

In fact, when we called and left messages on the phone number on the HomeAdvisor web site, he never returned our calls. We finally contacted HomeAdvisor, who both called him and gave us his cell phone number. He finally showed up to do the asphalt patching a week later. Then we had to call to remind him that he still needed to seal the driveway. This took 2 more weeks, but when his driveway worker showed up, he didn’t first seal the cracks/ When we pointed that out, he promised to come back and do that and reseal over the cracks.

Our review vanished

He never came. In fact, after two more calls, it was apparent that he wasn’t coming back. So, we went to post a One Star review on Home Advisor. However, there was no sign on HomeAdvisor that we had hired him, so we created a review anyway.  Our review was never posted. Since it was a One Star review, HA noted in a popup that they may call me to check on the report. They didn’t.  And the review still hasn’t been posted.

A few weeks later, we got an Email from HomeAdvisor reminding us that we’d get a $50 credit if we hired 3 contractors. Of course, we had hired 3 contractors, but either HA or Scott had deleted records of that third contract, because he had never completed it satisfactorily. We contacted them to point that out, but they never responded.

It looks like there are very few negative reviews on HA, because they can be (and have been) deleted. This tends to skew the ratings, and makes me suspicious of the entire enterprise.

What do contractors think?

It doesn’t take much effort to find a site that reviews businesses like HomeAdvisor, and the reviews at SiteJabber are really very negative indeed. Contactors complain about being billed for bad leads, and referrals that are irrelevant to their business. So you might very well be ones of those bad referrals and the people you talk to might not even be in the business you are looking for.

We think there are better services to use than HomeAdvisor, and would never use them again.