Tag: Travel

Should you take a cruise?

Should you take a cruise?

The above photo shows the Seabourn Odyssey (450 passengers) adjacent to the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas (2700 passengers). Royal Caribbean has much larger ships in its fleet.

We don’t take two or three cruises a year like some people we’ve met, but we’ve been on three cruises in the last 10 years and have picked up enough experience to make some recommendations. You might have seen some of the disappointing cruise ship photos, and you may have read Don Saltzman’s snarky review of a luxury cruise.

Put all that hyperbole aside. Cruises can be relaxing and invigorating and a lot of fun. It depends on you and what sort of things you enjoy. And how much you want to spend. We have limited ourselves to 7-day cruises because longer ones seem to us to be too much of a good thing.

Our experiences were a cruise around scenic Alaska on the Celebrity Millennium about 10 years ago, and a cruise on Seabourn to the Caribbean and another in the Mediterranean on Seabourn a year later. Both of them happened to be in the same ship, the Seabourn Odyssey, although all the staterooms had been upgraded during a winter drydock.

The nice thing about cruises is that you don’t have to pack and unpack everyday: your hotel comes along to every port, and your dinner or lunch is waiting when you come back from your excursions. The only disadvantage is that the ship usually is again underway by 6:00 pm, which precludes dinner in town. The only exception was at Monte Carlo, where they stayed in port until 11 pm in case you wanted to visit the casino. Recognizing, as Penn and Teller put it, that casinos are for people with poor math skills, we didn’t avail ourselves of the gambling.

Deciding on a cruise

You first need to decide on your budget. We created a spreadsheet of information for 11 of the most popular cruise lines from mass market to luxury. Here is a small copy:

cruise rotated

You can look at the entire table full size here. The table identifies cruises from about $2000 to well over $10,000 for a week for two people. This price may or may not include airfare, and you can sometimes get a good deal booking the airfare through your cruise line. We chose our cruises with rooms having a balcony (veranda). You can get ocean view staterooms a bit cheaper and windowless interior cabins quite a bit cheaper, but they can get a bit claustrophobic without a view. Prices were  recorded in mid to late January of 2020, and probably change all the time. Photos were taken from cruise ship web sites or in a few cases from CruiseCritic.com.

To approximate total costs, we assumed you would take four shore excursions (for 2), would order the drinks package and go to a specialty restaurant twice. We also added in the tips and WiFi charges if  not included. This gives you comparable costs across a spectrum of ships. If the cruise line couldn’t or wouldn’t provide a cost, we added in one from a comparable carrier.

You also have to decide on whether this is an adult vacation, or whether you want to bring children. This can get a lot more expensive in a hurry. While Disney excels in cruises that entertain children, they are by far the most expensive cruise line, costing more than actual luxury cruises. We’ll deal with Disney separately below.

Travel agents

We strongly suggest that you work with a travel agent. They know a lot more than you do about cruises and you usually end up with more shipboard credits and good advice that way. One agent told us about a nearly secret whirlpool she used on deck 6 every day. And we used it too!

Ship sizes

Ships vary considerably in size with small ones like Seabourn, Regent, Crystal and Oceana being sort of boutique cruises. But the large preponderance of cruise ships are floating towns of 2000 to nearly 3000, and MSC being floating cities of 4500 to over 6000. Obviously, you are likely to get more attention in the smaller ships, but the really important number is the passenger to crew ratio. Note that for pricey Seabourn, that number is only 1.3, but for the larger, mass market ships, that ratio is 3.0 or more. That is what you are paying for: more personal service, which includes better food and more wait staff as well as more helpful cabin attendants and the like. You generally find that the cabins are more luxurious as well.

Here is a sorted table of the ships by staff ratio.  Note that while the most expensive cruises have the lowest staff ratios, there are some bargains to be had. Crystal looks like  a good bargain, although note that it has larger ships.

Pasngrs Crew Ratio Total
Seabourn 450 335 1.34 $9,240
Silversea 596 411 1.45 $11,000
Crystal 980 655 1.50 $5,601
Regent* 700 445 1.57 $6,999
Oceana* 684 386 1.77 $7,998
Princess 2600 1150 2.26 $5,226
Disney 2400 950 2.53 $11,279
Royal Carib 2730 989 2.76 $6,638
MSC  4500 1536 2.93 $4,889
Celebrity 2852 920 3.10 $6,035
Carnival 2980 953 3.13 $4,879

Excursions

You should decide your objective for a cruise. Most people treat cruises as times to relax and get away from the pressures of daily life. On most cruises there are stops at ports most days, and you can stroll through the towns or take guided tours. In Alaska, the towns are quite small, but if you want to see the usual Eagles and Bears and Whales (Oh my!) you definitely should book shore excursions. If you do, you will definitely get to see  eagles and the mega-charismatic fauna!

Note from the table, that there is a wide variation in charges for what are probably the same Alaska tours, since there aren’t very many tour providers in these small towns. The typical charges for tours ran from $80-$125 on both Celebrity and Seabourn, but note that some other lines like Carnival and Princess mark these tours up by nearly a factor of two, to $225 to $249. Regent, Crystal and Silversea bundle them in their price.

In Saltzman’s screed referenced above, he complains about “nothing to do.”  This is odd, but even the smaller ships have pools and exercise facilities. Some of the bigger ones have climbing walls and running tracks around the perimeter. But the reasons this is so odd is that cruises take you to destinations almost every day and there is plenty to do in exploring the town or island of the day. Trudging along cobblestone paths and hills of old European cities can take a lot out of you, and we usually felt we had most of our exercise by the time we returned to the ship. We usually found a whirlpool to rejuvenate in after our late lunches.

On Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises you probably should be a little more selective in choosing tours. In many cases, like Menorca and Toulon, a walk through town is all you probably need, and we found that your could probably skip the tour of Nevis, since you can walk to Hamilton’s birthplace from the pier. (The only remaining building is the stable, and they don’t permit pictures because the exhibit is so cheesy.)

Entertainment

Evenings on most cruise ships include various kinds of after-dinner entertainment. Our ship traveled with singers, dancers, a 6-piece band and soloists. Larger ships have more elaborate “Broadway style” productions. These shows consist of hard working young singers and dancers doing their best with what seemed to be pretty bland material and we think these must be aimed at some other demographic.

Meals on cruises tend to be creative and well prepared in the main dining rooms, with more informal food choices at other buffet-like venues around the ship. And you can get a pretty good dinner delivered to your stateroom if you don’t feel like eating in a large restaurant. Only a few ships charge for room service.

Celebrity

CelebrityDespite Celebrity’s TV saturation of their surreal Dream Song (Jefferson Airplane) commercial with the improbable redhead in the clashing green gown, Celebrity is a good cruise line. It was originally owned by the Greek Chandris Group, but was sold to Royal Caribbean in 1997. The “X” on their ships looked to me to be a reference to the Unix X-Windows system, but it actually is the letter Chi for Chandris.

The ship we were on had 2800 passengers, but It never seemed crowded. The main dining room is a two level affair and there are two seatings at maybe 6:30 and 8:30. They have since added walk-in seating as well since then. You are assigned to a table for the cruise, in our case we shared the table with 3 other couples and found them friendly and congenial. You also have the option of dining in their specialty restaurant for an additional fee for about $50 a head. Since we had purchased a drinks package for the cruise the wine may have been included.

The dinner menus were varied and well prepared, but the breakfast and lunch were served buffet style from several smaller stations were you could get typical hot and cold breakfasts and lunches. The breakfasts were at best adequate, and while you could have a waited breakfast, it was the same food.

Celebrity excelled at baggage handling at a level we haven’t experienced elsewhere. We flew to Anchorage and stayed overnight at a hotel, leaving most of our tagged luggage outside our room for pickup. They took it directly to the ship and it was in our stateroom when we arrived, after taking a bus from Anchorage to Seward, where we boarded our ship. Even better, since we never really left the US, they took our tagged luggage from outside our room directly to our flight home from Vancouver. We never had to touch it. And while Vancouver is indeed outside the US, we were on a bus that delivered us  directly to the transit area, so we never officially entered Canada. This was really well done!

Celebrity has briefly advertised a Kids Sail Free program. Their drinks package at $59 a day seems excessive, but their current advertising suggests that they are offering drinks as part of the standard fare.

Seabourn

seabournSeabourn sails on small ships having 450 to about 600 passengers, with very low passenger to crew ratios and excellent service. The level of attention you get is very high and many of the crew will soon know you by name. And on our second cruise the social director remembered us from the year before! Seabourn cruises are all inclusive except for the excursions: tips, liquor and all meals are included. Even the specialty restaurant, The Grille by Thomas Keller is available at no charge.

The rooms are a bit larger at 302 square feet and the cabins are quite a bit fancier. Since liquor is included in the fare price, they ask what you want them to stock your minibar with and keep it stocked all during the cruise.

One of the most relaxing things about Seabourn is sitting poolside, either in the shade or sun and finding a waiter at your elbow offering you a drink from his tray. They will also bring you any kind of drink you want, if that one doesn’t quite meet your taste requirements.

On our Seabourn cruises there was usually one singer doing pop standards with the band who was pretty good, but performance purporting to be “classical” were more like Lloyd-Webber and other popperetta rather than actual classical singing.

On our second cruise, they had cut some corners: the service in the informal restaurant suffered, and they were only offering two kinds of wine with dinner, where the year before they had four or five bottles to choose from. However, it remained an elegant experience we’d happily repeat.

There is a nominal charge for WiFi, but they provide enough shipboard credits to cover it. We never ran out.

Seabourn also features spas and treatments using the name of noted alternative medicine quack Dr Andrew Weil. Some of the excursions are labeled as “Mindful,” but fortunately none of the tour guides knew anything about this hokum. Weil’s treatment regimen includes yoga, Chinese herbal malarkey, and acupuncture, otherwise known as a pre-scientific theatrical placebo.

Carnival Cruises

CarnivalCarnival is distinctly a mass-market cruise line with ships holding around 3000 passengers. The staterooms are much less fancy (early Holiday Inn) and they keep their low per room prices by charging you separately for tips, specialty restaurants and WiFi. Their liquor package is so high at $52 per person per day that you could never drink enough to cover it, and getting  drinks individually is probably the only solution. They also have the highest passenger to staff ratio of any of the cruise lines we looked at 3.13.  This is the kind of ship where they have Lip Sync Battles and Water Slides. Their excursion prices are roughly double those of Celebrity and most other cruise lines. They have several kids clubs on board.

Princess Cruise Lines

princessPrincess Cruises is a slightly more upscale cruise line also owned by Carnival. Drinks, WiFi and tipping are folded into the base price. However, their excursion prices are even higher than Carnival’s. The room décor is significantly better than Carnival’s. Specialty restaurants have charges of $25-$29 per person, and they offer children’s programs for ages 3-7, 8-12, and teens. They also offer some 4-person staterooms featuring models so attractive you can’t tell which is the mom and which the daughter. Princess Cruise Lines and Carnival have both paid whopping fines for dumping oil and plastic waste.

Regent Seven Seas

regentRegent Seven Seas is a high end all-inclusive cruise line, where drinks, tips, WiFi, all restaurants and all excursions are included in the price. With only 700 passengers and a passenger /staff ratio of 1.5, you can be sure to get excellent service and attention to your needs. With five specialty restaurants in addition the main dining room and the Pool Grill, you are sure to find something interesting every night. They are so sure that they are standouts in the luxury cruise market, they even publish a comparison chart.

While their list prices seem high, they actually turn out to be two for the price of one fares, which makes them an excellent value. They also offer bundled air fare. While this is clearly a ship for adults, they do offer discounted children’s fares and a Club Mariner Youth Program.

Royal Caribbean

royal caribRoyal Caribbean takes the cruise experience and turns it into a theme park. On the smaller Enchantment of the Seas with 2730 passengers, they have scuba, climbing walls and a bungee trampoline and an old arcade. On their larger ships, they also have dodge cars,  laser tag, vertical sky diving into a large plastic tube, and a surf simulator (??). And on some Caribbean cruises, you may stop at their private CocoCay island (Bahamas) amusement park.

Their main Windjammer restaurant is open for all meals and the Chops Grill (at extra cost) is open for dinner, and lunch on sea days.

But Royal Caribbean doesn’t stop there. Their larger ships have over 6000 passengers, as you can see from this extensive table.   Their latest Quantum Ultra (or maybe Death Star) class ships can carry 6680 passengers and 2200 crew, giving them an unimpressive staff ratio of 3.03. These are touted as the world’s largest cruise ships. These large ships have up to ten restaurants to choose from.

And as usual drinks, tips specialty restaurants and WiFi are all at extra cost. If you want to sit and quietly sip your drink around the pools, these are not the best ships for you, and if you really like to vacation in close quarters with a lot of people, you could skip the boat and just spend a few days in New York.

Oceana

oceanaOceana is a top of the line small ship experience, with a staff ratio of 1.77. The fare is all inclusive including drinks, dining, tips, WiFi, excursions and airfare. Some of these are part of a bundle called OLife Choices which is a per-cabin program which includes drinks, air fare, 4 excursions and WiFi. The Culinary Experiences include te Grand Dining Room, Toscana, Polo Grill, Jacques, Red Ginger, Tuscan Steak, the Terrace Café and the Wave Grill, as well as coffee and tea shops and culinary classes. Oceana does not mention any youth programs. This looks like a fine choice, but Oceana cruise reviews are less than stellar, implying that their food and service have slipped.

Crystal Cruises

crystalCrystal Cruises is a luxury cruise line running ships with just under 1000 passengers, and with a staff ratio of 1.5.  Tips, drinks and WiFi are included. The restaurants include the Waterside main dining room, The Marketplace (by day) and Churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) by night, Uma Uma, a sushi bar by chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Prego, the inevitable Italian restaurant, Silk Kitchen Asian cuisine, and The Bistro and Trident Grill for informal meals. There is also an ice cream bar. Entertainment includes Broadway inspired shows, and movies.  They also offer enrichment lectures featuring “thought leaders” and book readings by favorite authors. There are exercise facilities, a lap pool, yoga, Pilates, and some sort of hokum inspired by Feng Shui at the Crystal Life Spa. Most recent  reviews of Crystal  Cruises have been a bit mixed, criticizing the food and some of the excursions. Crystal tells us they will not be cruising to Alaska again until 2022.

Silversea

silverseaSilversea is an all inclusive luxury cruise line with under 600 passengers. They make their actual prices difficult to discover, as they want you to given them your name and address first. This link shows some of their current deals. Without going through “Request a Quote” it is hard to know what the prices will actually be. Fine dining abounds on Silversea, with a main dining room, The Grill, Indochine, La Dame, Seishin, La Terrazza, and Kaisecki. There is an air and hotel program, that offers free economy or business class for an addition $699 each way, per person.  Online reviews of Silversea are mixed, but difficult to summarize. In general, this is likely to be a fine experience.

MSC

MSC_Cabin_SE_Balconylw_800x450_CB (1)MSC is a European line that has made significant inroads in the US.  Their ships are about 4500 passengers, but with a staff ratio of 2.93. However, MSC has announced plans for the Meraviglia Grandiosa, which will carry 6334 passengers, continuing the trend to megaships. MSC also has announced their private island, MSC Ocean Cay, off the Bahamas. Ships will stop their for a day of food and dancing going on into the night, where there will be a light show featuring the local lighthouse. The idea of visiting an actual living island instead does not occur to them, we suppose.

MSC cruises claim to have twelve distinct venues, including HOLA Tapas, Butcher’s Cut, Kaito Teppenyaki, Ocean Cay (seafood), and Marketplace Buffet. MSC also currently offers All-In Plus, with free drinks, free WiFi and $100 shipboard credit, for $419 per person for 7-day cruises.

Criticisms of MSC include rating it one of the “worst lines” by EscapeHere for lackluster food, outdated rooms and few English speaking staff. CruiseCritic is a bit more evenhanded with 2400 Excellents, 1800 Very Goods, 1375 Average, 1261 Poor, and 1107 Terrible ratings.

Disney Cruises

disneyWe waited until last to discuss the Dumbo in the Living Room: Disney Cruises. A quick glance at the cost table above reveals that it is easily the most expensive cruise line we’ve discussed, even though with a staff ratio of 2.33 it provides less attention and from the looks of their stateroom photos, it is far from luxurious: rather more like a budget motel.

The rooms have a separate toilet and shower, but no closets. The only storage is that small dresser in the picture. There is also some room to store your suitcases under the bed.

The reason for the high cost is of course, children. Disney cruises are not only about entertaining children, they also are housing and feeding them. So, while your typical veranda stateroom looks like it is for two adults, the couch unfolds to a bed, and there is a pull-down bunk bed as well. So, the base room charge is really for four passengers, two adults and two smaller people. So, while Disney claims that adults could sail without children and eat and drink in the adult areas, this is not very cost effective.

Much of the child appeal of Disney cruises is the encounters with costumed Disney characters, the “clubs” for various age groups (and not unlike that on several other lines) and the Broadway-style shows. Some ships actually present (probably shortened) versions of Tangled and Frozen, but it appears that some of the time these are pastiche shows along the lines of  “Frozen Lion King Aladdin II.” (OK, I made that title up.)

Dining on Disney cruises schedules you to rotate among three different restaurants, with your table mates and servers coming with you to maintain continuity. There are also several more informal choices, including pizza and burgers. While the food is included, ice cream at their soda shop is not. Every Disney ship has at least one adult restaurant as well, the Italian Palo   being the most common. Some ships also have a French-style restaurant called Remy, named after the rat in the cartoon Ratatoille, who wants to become a chef. Personally, I don’t find the idea of rats in the kitchen particularly appealing. In the cartoon, Remy opens his restaurant when an established chef invests in it. (However, no one mentions that this will be a short investment, since rats’ life span is only about 18 months.)

You can see a complete run of menus from a Disney cruise here. Note that the menus and the food names are drenched in Disney  promotions and Disney kitsch.

The problem with these adults-only restaurants, of course, is that you still have to get your children fed. Apparently, if your kids are old enough, they can eat at their usual table and then the servers will escort them to the kids’ clubs. Of course, if they are that old, they probably would prefer a cruise without the costumed characters milling about.

Disney has a bizarre tipping policy. Tips are not included in the price, and while bartenders add 18% to the drink charge, Disney suggests that on a 7-day cruise, you tip your server $31.50, your assistant server $24.50, your head server $7 and your stateroom attendant $31.50. You can arrange to have this charged to your bill if you like. It amounts to about $189 for two that should probably be bundled into the cost of the cruise.

Disney does not have an overall drinks package, but their liquor prices are so cheap ($5-$8) that you can easily charge them to your account. However, premium drinks (like Scotches) can run up quite a bill. And unlike most cruise lines, they don’t mind you bringing on your own booze.  They do have a beer mug package. Buy a souvenir mug and you can get it filled with beer whenever you ask. Stay classy, Disney. On the other end, they have a wine package, which means you can buy 3, 4 ,5 or 7 bottles of wine ahead of time. It’s kind of an odd idea, but apparently cost effective.

Overall, Disney cruises are not for us, as our children are grown, but even when your kids are young, you might do better to take them on a less aggressively Disneyfied cruise and take them to a theme park instead. To be fair, some adults like this sort of thing, and you might be one of them, but you can spend a lot less for a more luxurious experience on some of the other cruise lines.  Other critics have been less impressed.

 

 

 

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

The Grille by Thomas Keller on Seabourn

Chef Thomas Keller is a consultant to Seabourn Cruises, and has created unique high-end restaurants on each the of larger ships. Keller is best known, of course, for his well-regarded French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in Manhattan.

While “The Grille by Thomas Keller” does not aspire to the nine courses you find in his land-based restaurants, it is an extremely good restaurant, especially since the standard ship dining room serves excellent 4-course meals every night. The Grille is smaller, however, and you must make reservations in advance. In fact you can make them on-line as soon as you have booked your cruise, as the restaurant is very popular and getting reservations once you are on board is very difficult. Repeat visits are nearly impossible to obtain.

seating

Literature provided in each room includes a booklet on the purveyors Keller uses for his floating gourmet experience. Farms, orchards, seafood, chicken, smoked meats, veal, cheese, beef and olive oil are all spelled out. (There is also a booklet on Spa and Wellness by Andrew Weil which is utter bull-pucky and can be discarded.)

Dinner at the Grille is served from 6pm to 9pm nightly and consists of starters, plates, sides and sweets, each served impeccably by an experienced staff.

iced veggiesOur dinner began with a dish of fresh vegetable on ice.

There is an element of theater to presentations in the Grill, with a number of dishes prepared table side. At our table, an order of Caesar salad was nearly a 3 act production, but quite entertaining, and the resulting salad was indeed very good.

 

They also prepare Dover Sole Meuniere at table side, as we noted when the next table ordered it.

Our other starter was a “Double Consomme ‘Celestine’,” with Black Winter Truffles and Julienned Crepes. Like most soups in the Seabourn dining rooms, the waiters bring you a bowl with the dry, floating ingredients and then pour in the soup liquid.

 

This was a light but really rich and flavorful soup that we picked because our main course was quite rich. The definition of “Celestine” is “heavenly,” and it was that good.

 

One of our entrees was dubbed “Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Medallions with Herb Crust,” and the lamb as tender and juicy as any you could imagine. It was prepared table-side, to the extent that they poured sauce over the lamb. As noted, it was delicious.

Our other entrée was Lobster Thermidor,  which amounts to lobster out of the shell served with a creamy sauce made with cream, vegetable and mushroom stocks, and a few croutons.

thermidor

Here is a typical recipe. While we didn’t get much in the way of table-side theater, this was one of the best lobster dishes we have ever had.

We also shared a side vegetable dish of excellent, multicolored buttered carrots.

 

Finally, our dessert was a gorgeous and delicious Lemon Meringue Tart, and since my birthday was the previous week, it came with a candle.

Dinner at the Grille is a delightful experience with superb service. However, the menu changes little during the week (the lamb wasn’t on every night) so if you are able to return, you may have to plan from the same menu. They are, however, delivered daily to your room for that purpose.

Other Keller influences

Once each week, the main dining room has a special Chef’s Dinner. On that same day, the secondary restaurant, called the Colonnade has a single menu dinner by chef Keller, consisting last week of Waldorf Salad, Grilled “RR” Ribeye, Cypress Hill Humboldt Fog cheese with wild flower honey and country bread, and Chocolate Silk Pie.

The service is “Family Style” meaning that they bring one platter for the whole table. Since most people on a cruise are just couples, this isn’t very significant, but cute. This is modeled on Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in Napa. The kitchen staff also shouts out the order numbers, which is even sillier when everyone is getting the same meal. While we loved the beef, cheese and dessert, the Waldorf salad was rather weird, with just a few ultra-thin slices of apple mixed with the lettuce, celery, nuts and currants.

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