Small Ship Cruising - Is it worth it?

Recently I spent 14 nights on the Seabourn Encore, promoted as the ultra-luxury in cruising. In the past, I’ve traveled on everything from Carnival to Regent to Uniworld & AmaWaterways. What I found is it’s really about what experience you are looking for and sometimes until you do it, you never knew how great it is. If you enjoy exploring and learning on your vacation, they are many opportunities on luxury small ship cruising.

What is impressive that creates a different experience?

  • Seabourn Square - creative way to have a front desk, internet center, puzzles, specialty coffees in a relaxed, comfortable, lively lounge.  The difference you don’t mind waiting for a guest service specialist while reading the paper and enjoying a gelato.
    Earth & Ocean- Pool side evening dining. This is not hamburgers or just a grill, but creative casual food like Nigerian prawns, Peking duck or grilled cauliflower. It’s relaxing and casual after a full day in port. Service was outstanding.  The difference is you get fine dining cuisine sitting under the stars.
  • Ventures by Seabourn - perfect for active travelers who enjoy learning about the environment they are visiting. Zodiacs, birdwatching, hikes in mangroves to rainforests, kayaking and conversations. In small groups, you really get to be part of nature and learn at the same time, you might be amazed at how and how long an albatross fly:)
    • Conversations in the grand salon based by Venture Guides, professors and invited experts to share insights on your destination’s history, environment, culture, mammals, etc.
  • Partnerships with Thomas Keller - both in a separate restaurant nightly and at the Colonnade on selected nights. Cuisine with the finest quality ingredients, along with a similarly intense focus on impeccable guest service. Definitely do the table side Caesar salads and ice cream sundaes.  Never thought I wanted to go to the French Laundry in Yountville, but now I might have to reconsider.
  • Seabourn Moments: Moments where you appreciate the difference.
    • Being welcomed to a show in the Grand Salon with champagne & caviar.
    • Evening turn down with artisan K+M Chocolates, a Thomas Keller partnership, definitely elevates the standard of an evening turndown sweet.
    • Galley brunch- the kitchen galley is opened, and passengers enjoy an exquisite buffet brunch. Very creative food, food displays and a chance to see and appreciate the chefs. Easy way to do a galley tour.
    • Local entertainment - yes, they offered singers, dancers, musicians and magicians, but they also bring onboard local specific to the culture entertainers. In New Zealand, we had Maori dance group and Auckland street artist, The Sandman. Again, it’s about being immersed in the culture you are visiting. 
  • Smaller ship benefits:
    • Unique, smaller port- easy tenders. Unique ports that large ships cannot do because it’s a real challenge to tender 4,000 people
    • Ease of disembarking, no lines waiting at doors
    • Not wearing group numbers for tours
    • Staff remembers you and not because you sit at the same table every night. 

Other Ship Amenities:

  • Laundry room- complimentary nice washer & dryers with soap provided.
  • Bathrooms - separate tub & shower. Great Molton Brown soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotions.
  • Pre-dinner entertainment nightly:
    • Cocktails & Appetizers with a piano duo in the Observation Bar
    • A dance band in the Club
    • Piano Bar in Thomas Keller

While my cruise experience was overall enjoyable, I believe it's important to share some areas of disappointment to provide realistic expectations. Despite my wish for perfection, I understand that may not be achievable anytime soon!

Conversations in the grand salon were often interesting, but I felt they could have been more tailored to our location. Discussing the specific geology of places like Milford Sound or New Zealand would have added depth to the experience, rather than generic topics. However, the majority of conversations were fantastic.

One downside was the lack of active options onboard beyond the workout room and pool, including a designated walking track on the deck.  The internet service, while functional, was slow and expensive, costing $400 for a two-week period. The design of the grand salon was lacking, with many seats obstructed by poles.  Cabins at the front of the ship were noisy during high winds and choppy seas.

On the last night, it would have been preferable to dock overnight in Auckland rather than remain at sea.

Planning a cruise?  What questions to ask?

  • What is included? With Seabourn, it’s easy everything but the spa, internet, and shore excursions.
  • Who are some of the partnerships and what are the benefits?