It has been said that as well as being a nation of shopkeepers (a tad harsh Mr Napoleon) the British are also a nation of seafarers… But going on a cruise… surely not? The thought of being cabined and confined on a boat full of old fogies for a week watching less than worthy entertainment and eating buffet food was not for us. Even the complimentary drinks didn’t tempt; or did they? Despite our initial doubts, the more we researched the possibilities of a week on the Seabourn Odyssey, the more appealing the prospect became. The word Odyssey is especially apt as our cruise would take in various destinations along the Adriatic, and we would start our voyage in Venice, itself an excellent proposition.
Sadly, as our small water taxi skipped across the open sea before joining Venice’s Grand Canal the weather was unseasonably appalling, and the much heralded vistas of Venice had disappeared beneath a dense, foggy shroud. Luckily we had three nights here before joining our cruise and, despite the abysmal rain, we explored every inch of the city. Venice has to be on everyone’s must-see list. The architecture is remarkable, the history astonishing, and if you take the time to discover the better restaurants off the well trodden tourist tracks, it is not as eye-wateringly expensive as you think. I could write a book on Venice, and would love to, but that’s for another day.
What was remarkable was watching the vast cruise ships as they arrived on Saturday evening, dwarfing the Venetian architecture of the Grand Canal as they made their way to the city’s port. Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful and as our water taxi deposited us at the bustling port three cruise liners were readying to depart. Two were Herculean in their bulk, ours was more compact; the thoroughbred of the three. The check-in process was simple and efficient, and we were soon aboard what was to be our home for the week. Our first port of call, to use a seafaring phrase, was to check out our cabin. I think it was at this point that we realised we had made a very wise decision. Compact but well thought out, it would compare favourably with many a five star hotel, with its small sitting room and sizeable ensuite bathroom and, best of all, a balcony. Each cabin has a steward or stewardess to look after it and its occupants, and ours, Crista, was delightful, answering our every question and fulfilling our requests with real enthusiasm and interest. The mini bar, so often the bête noire of hotel guests, was already stocked with our favourite drinks (information gleaned when you sign up for the voyage). Opening a cold beer and pouring a glass of Chablis we stood on our balcony overlooking the dockside, with Venice in the distance, and watched the hustle and bustle of the crew making ready for the open sea.
First things first, however, was the compulsory emergency drill. It took place in the vast restaurant and was organised with military precision. This was one of the only times for seriousness; latecoming Texan billionaires would not be excused or tolerated. If health and safety were understandably front of mind on the Seabourn Odyssey, hospitality was a welcome companion. With just half an hour before departure, we ventured up to Deck 8 where the Sail Away cocktail party was in full swing. If it sounds naff, I can tell you it wasn’t. Bellinis and beer were thrust into our hands by the ever present, charming and attentive staff whose constant endeavours would leave a lasting hallmark on our holiday. I can safely say it was the best service I have ever enjoyed, anywhere. This was service with a smile and, if appropriate, a joke and a laugh too, and something Seabourn can be genuinely proud of.
As we prepared to leave, the band struck up. Slightly cringeworthy we felt, but fun all the same and a good way to break the ice with fellow passengers, many of whom turned out to be seasoned Seabourn guests. The two larger vessels, which had some 2,000 guests compared to our mere 400 (Seabourn are renowned for their smaller, more intimate cruises) were taken out to deeper waters by two tugs – a sight to see in itself. We soon followed and headed towards the waters of the Adriatic, but not before a final glimpse of Venice, now under a rather threateningly stormy sky.
As the party continued, we returned to our cabin to unpack. In so doing we learned more of its credentials – it was as fine a piece of interior design and space management as you can imagine. The three rooms gave us ample space. They included an especially well fitted ensuite bathroom, complete with generous bathtub and shower. We had a smallish but perfectly planned out dressing room with a good amount of wardrobe and hanging space. The main area of the cabin offered a good size bed and a sitting/dining area – especially handy if room service is your thing. We had everything we needed, and a recently added bottle of champagne to welcome us aboard. We decided to save it for another evening.
If you imagine the complete cruise as a book, it can be broken down into chapters which in turn offer various plots and, like all good novels, has characters aplenty too. Although life aboard follows a certain pattern, it also allows for a huge amount of flexibility. If I was to comment on every possible opportunity afforded this review would rival War and Peace in length, if not in sentiment, so the following is a brief and personal summary.
The Seabourn Odyssey attempts, and succeeds, in catering for a vast variety of guests of all ages. Menus alter daily in all four restaurants including the more formal dining option in The Restaurant, and in Restaurant 2 which is the only one where you are required to book and offers a deliciously ambitious tasting menu. The dress code also changes each day, from resort casual to more formal, but really anything goes. There is a formal night where wearing black tie is optional, and we were impressed by the number electing to do so. The Colonnade, where breakfast is served, is a buffet-style, indoor/outdoor restaurant with a more relaxed atmosphere and a range of speciality nightly alternatives including Steak House, Old England, and Japanese as well as a French and Tuscan themed market. The poolside Patio Bar was a relaxed setting for the spectacular buffet lunch where you could help yourself to as much or as little of the best salads, freshly grilled meat and seafood imaginable. The catering throughout the ship, and indeed throughout the voyage was excellent and having had a sneak peek at one of the ship’s four kitchens it would challenge many found in the finest European hotels.
Given the time of year (late May) the expectation was for good weather but it was mixed, at best. The first stop on our voyage was Triluke Bay, where anchored offshore we were able to enjoy watersports and swim from the back of the boat. It was an idyllic spot. Our first disembarkation came the following day, at Croatia’s majestic Dubrovnik. The boat’s private tenders ploughed back and forth across the tiny bay of startlingly clear water, depositing guests at the city’s small port. Thereafter we travelled to Kotor (Montenegro), Primosten (Croatia), Koper (Slovenia), and Ravenna (Italy) before returning to Venice. Each destination had clearly been carefully considered and offered a unique mix of history, culture and simply stunning scenery.
Dubrovnik, with its majestic city walls and terracotta rooftops, is a must-see. The journey into and out of Kotor was sublimely beautiful with craggy mountains to left and right ushering us into this pleasant little town. Ravenna’s amazing mosaics and the mysterious Dante’s tomb were also of note. Each day special trips were offered as extras, ranging from cycling to kayaking or wine tasting and culinary tours. If you preferred to do your own thing, the tenders worked with military precision taking you back and forth to shore with the minimum of fuss, and extras such as bottles of cold water and sun cream, or umbrellas as the weather dictated, were a typically thoughtful touch. After each excursion we would return for lunch where I swear those guys could spot an empty beer glass at a hundred paces!
One part of the cruise, which frankly I had no real interest in initially, was the onboard entertainment. But hey ho, we needed to give it a whirl and we did. Against all our expectations, the song, dance and comedy were all great. Shows were not too long and full of energy and zest; I can thoroughly recommend them. Other entertainment in the form of card games, talks and various recitals took place through the duration of the cruise and you could sample them as and when you fancied. Sadly, the alfresco deck discos were both cancelled due to rain which was a huge pity; they are apparently high-points of the cruise.
Although comparatively small compared to most luxury cruise ships, which we felt was very much part of its charm, one of the pleasures onboard was the number of different spaces to discover. As the Captain put it in his welcome notes ‘We encourage you to explore this beautiful vessel from top to bottom and from stem to stern. She is not so very large but she has been equipped with many lounges, lovely outdoor settings and nice little surprises for you to discover.’ Half the fun was doing just that and we found some wonderful quiet places which we could enjoy alone, including a spa-pool on one deck which we had to ourselves, a mini-golf course, (where tragically, I was beaten!) and a peaceful outdoor sitting area beside the ship’s library with huge squashy sofas and an unlimited supply of coffee.
The other crucial ingredient on a cruise is the people on board. The staff as I have mentioned were a pleasure; hand-picked I am sure for their politeness and ability to be pleasant whatever the pressure. Our fellow passengers had gathered from across the globe. We met some interesting and hugely entertaining people. My favourite was a Scottish chap; we kept bumping into him and his wife on various random occasions. I explained that we were cruise virgins… ‘You’ve landed on your feet my friend, this is the best I’ve been on’ (and he had been on many.)
It is difficult to nominate a favourite aspect of the cruise and I think perhaps that is its unique attraction. It’s the sum of the parts that makes such a complete and memorable holiday. When we returned to Venice it was with heavy hearts. We had had a wonderful time, yet there were lots of things we didn’t manage to do among the many we did. We visited the excellent gym, (great and varied views) but not the sumptuous spa with its impressive menu of treatments. We did not dance on deck, but we had great fun sampling parts of five different countries en-route. We had not tested out room service – simply because we preferred being on deck – but we had eaten like kings and such was the generous and ample hospitality we never drank that bottle of champagne!
As we sat on the handsome terrace of The Bauers in Venice enjoying a final lunch, we reflected on our journey and on travelling, and I suppose on life too. People have many reasons to travel. Some go for business, others crave far-off destinations with isolated beaches and views to die for, others seek culture, while many are happy with soft sand, hot sunshine and a cold drink. I guess we all differ, but one thing is for certain, a cruise is a magnificent option, and if you are lucky enough to enjoy a cruise aboard the Seabourn Odyssey you are in for a treat indeed.
Those who teased us when we announced we were going on a cruise were fascinated and more than intrigued by our wholehearted enthusiasm for the Seabourn experience. I for one can’t wait to return to experience another part of the world on one of the Seabourn’s ships. I wasn’t expecting to say this, but I can not recommend it more highly, yes we were very lucky with our choice of vessel, but you should try it – the world, as they say, is your oyster.
For more information on Seabourn cruises visit www.seabourn.com