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As my eight-night cruise on the Crystal Symphony draws to an end, I have to say that I am a bit conflicted. There are some truly wonderful aspects of the Crystal Symphony and some that clearly need some buffing up.
One thing that doesn't need buffing up is the ship itself. The Crystal Symphony is in great shape. Every area is extremely well maintained and even after recent refurbishment updates continue with nice new carpeting being installed during our cruise.
There are also many venues and activities on the ship. From golf driving ranges, miniature golf, pickleball/paddle tennis
as well as a computer library, library and bridge room. Ballroom dancing, string quartets, elegant afternoon tea and an enrichment program that continues to be one of the best, if not the best, at sea.
Crystal Symphony's Palm Court
Speaking of enrichment programs, during our cruise there were two complimentary wine tastings held in conjunction with the Livermore Valley with Omega, McKahn and Wente wineries.
I should note that these were not serious wine tastings, but more akin to try some of our wines and see if you like any. It was truly better to have this approach than faux tastings where it is about "the show" rather than "the fun".
The complimentary Wi-Fi was great. I was able to login on my laptop, phone and iPad all at the same time and pretty much never had any connectivity or serious lag issues.
A few things do, however, need buffing up:
There is far too much use of single-serve plastic packets for just about any and everything you can think it.
Plastic spoons are used at Scoop's, the ice cream bar serving Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. I don't think those guys would be too impressed either.
While paper straws are now used, they each come wrapped individually in paper. Huh?
Fake cream cheese is used...also served in plastic packets.
While some do enjoy some of the last remaining photographers at sea (at least on a luxury line), there has to be a way to avoid them rather than step around them.
Shuttle bus limitations. In Victoria, the only shuttle bus necessary port, buses left on the half hour and if they were full a second bus was not provided. Thus, in my case, I arrived along with about 20 other guests at 9:55 AM for the 10:00 AM shuttle only to watch it drive off early and be told the next shuttle would leave in 35 minutes. That was a first! Crystal, at least at the beginning of the day, should provide all the shuttles that are needed.
Reflections, Crystal's nightly multipage newspaper is a huge waste of paper and very "old school" with ads for the photographer, etc. It may be that Crystal's demographic is "old school", but for this "youngster" what I need to know gets lost in that which I could care less about.
Crystal continues is kitschy Cruise Director television shows each morning. While it is easy enough to just not tune in, I think the homage to yesteryear downgrades the luxury aspects of Crystal.
Along those lines, I must note the demographic on this cruise. It skewed not only elderly, but infirm with more canes, walkers, etc. and inability to actively walk than I have seen. At the same time, it seemed like the grandparents brought along quite a number of children (adults) with their children (grandchildren). At times it made just getting into an elevator before closed or sitting in the one hot tub quietly a challenge. It also made navigating the Marketplace (buffet) quite a bit more challenging.
Regarding my stateroom, and as I previously noted, I was assigned a Deluxe Stateroom with Extremely Limited View. Other than the lifeboat view it is essentially the same as the Deluxe Staterooms with or without a veranda. Overall it provides most every amenity one would desire, but lacks sufficient storage space for an extended cruise. Most challenging, however, is the bathroom...though it has everything from double sinks to a soaking tub to tons of storage. Its downfall is two-fold: virtually no counter space and no space to maneuver.
Two sinks are great, but there is virtually no counter space
Also of note: While the front desk assured me that there is one-way glass on the windows so crew working on the lifeboat outside my window cannot see me, it is simply untrue. I looked at the window when the ship was docked in Victoria and I could see the curtains and, thus, right in! Just be aware...as it really is off-putting and a bit creepy. However, I did make a request that Crystal just let me know when someone might be working on the lifeboat so I could be sure to draw my curtains. In true Crystal fashion, it was done!
My stewardess was extremely quiet and polite...though she did loosen up as the cruise continued, so the smiles and a bit of a chat were appreciated. She was extremely efficient and kept my stateroom in great shape.
Crystal Symphony's Avenue Saloon
I have to say that in all of my cruises (and there have obviously been many) the bar staff - from bartenders to waiters - in the Avenue Saloon/Connoisseurs Club are the best team I have ever encountered. Charming personalities, excellently crafted cocktails, intuitive service. Bravo!
Every detail from properly placing the cocktail napkin with the Crystal Seahorses facing you, to offering another cocktail at just the right time to changing out your ashtray (Connoisseurs Club only)...plus knowing how much to engage or not engage each guest was spot on.
Overall, the cuisine was quite good, but some aspects just weren't up to past Crystal standards. Prego, the Italian restaurant, was outstanding, the Trident Grill's hamburgers were spot on and Waterside (the main restaurant) did great on cuisine, but disappointed with rushed impersonal service...the same sort of service I received during my two visits to Umi Uma. Umi Uma, associated with Nobu and previously my favorite dining venue really became "Really? Oh My!" as the sushi/sashimi quality is suffering, undesired dishes are robotically (systematically?) pushed on you and some dishes left me shaking my head. Silk is a decent refuge, but left me wanting flavor and a bit of the tranquility its decor leads you to believe will be there. But the Churascuria was great fun and delivered a noteworthy experience.
One personal disappointment: There were not enough guests who signed up for the Vintage Room; a fantastic pairing of extraordinary cuisine prepared by Crystal's chefs with extraordinary wines. It baffles me how out of 884 guests there were not twelve that found the $250 evening worthwhile.
While I did not use any of the Crystal shore excursions, I did take advantage of its very worthwhile Voluntourism opportunities. It was good to see there was sufficient participation by the guests, as in the past I have experienced a lacking thereof.
Overall my experience on the Crystal Symphony was very good. Some aspects were excellent. Some were very good. But some left me a bit disappointed.
Do I continue to recommend Crystal Cruises? Absolutely. But is not the right product for everyone. Making sure the itinerary and ship match a guest's needs and desires come first and foremost. And one thing is for certain with Crystal: It does that for quite a number of its loyal guests.
If you would like to read my prior, more in-depth articles, here are the links:
I thought I would combine my food (and culinary) experiences on my Crystal Symphony cruise. To my mind juxtaposing the quest of those simply needing a nutritious meal against my rather critical discussion of the cuisine onboard the Crystal Symphony makes one (that would be me!) appreciate that sometimes culinary criticisms are really unimportant in the overall scheme of things.
During my cruise on the Crystal Symphony I am taking advantage of Crystal's Voluntourism opportunities by volunteering (and be educated at) three different food banks: San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon and Victoria, British Columbia (which was, unfortunately, canceled at the last minute due to a lack of food bank staffing). I am a longtime supporter of charities that offer aid to those who cannot afford to properly feed themselves and, so much related thereto, victims of domestic violence.
I truly wish more cruise lines would offer these programs. While the actual work performed probably is of limited value, being made aware of the problems and needs associated with the various ports ships visit can truly provide guests with both personal enrichment and, from a travel perspective, a bit of a different connection with a truly local experience.
My morning at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank was spent, after a quick tour, moving 100 pound bags of rice while the other Crystal guests repackaged them into one pound bags.
My Astoria, Oregon experience was far more personal and enriching. The COO (sounds much fancier and distant than this small operation's driving force actually is) Dusten Martin spoke from his heart and with enthusiasm about the program, the people that are served, how they do what they do and their vision. Astoria is small town with a large county-wide problem: Too many people unable to obtain proper nutrition. And then it was back to opening bags of beans and rice so that our group could repackage them into smaller ones.
One thing I notice as I wandered the warehouse is that a number of not very nutritious items were donated including candy, cookies and highly sugared cake mixes. I asked what they did with them as teaching the undernourished how to eat healthily is critical. I was surprised that Oregon has a more laissez-faire approach to feeding those in need: Each individual can pick and choose what they want. I'm not sure I agree with that.
An interesting aside, and a great example of how engaging in charity work can truly provide some local travel engagement, the Astoria food bank provides ground bear meat as a protein. When a nuisance bear (aggressive or too much human contact) is killed, it is required to be butchered and given to food banks. It is considered a good way to get protein to those in need. I cannot imagine the protests if bear meat was offered in San Francisco. Personally, I am a bit conflicted as I live among the bears and feel humans have encroached upon their environment so why do they have to pay the price...but some interactions in the world that exists just are unsafe for both bear and human.
And now: Back to the Crystal Symphony and her food!
Umi Uma (Nobu)
On my second night on the Crystal Symphony, I dined at Umi Uma, the Nobu Japanese cuisine restaurant. I was excited to return to what was my favorite culinary experience on a Crystal cruise. Nobu is a world-famous Japanese chef known for his modern twists on traditional Japanese cuisine. I have been fortunate to dine in a few Nobu restaurants, most recently as a few months ago with my son and a dear friend. While I have no expectation of Nobu being the same at sea, my having also experienced Nobu on Crystal a few times, I do have my expectations.
Unfortunately, while I did enjoy my meal overall, both the service and the cuisine lacked the flair I previously had experienced and seemed to have no relation to Nobu beyond the name burned into each chopstick. (Right up front before I start getting hate mail: I heard others voluntarily relate similar feelings after their dining there as well.)
Umi Uma cold sake presentation
Service seemed very rushed and impersonal, but the restaurant was actually not crowded and most people I observed were already well into their meals. I was offered merely hot or cold saki or wine, but never offered any cold saki options. And with saki there are so many different flavors I found this "Americanization" of a Nobu dining experience a bit off-putting.
I did enjoy the monkfish liver pate, though its presentation was rather ordinary. I also wondered what the deal was with a cored-out cucumber and sliced cherry tomato as garnish; thinking this is not exactly "East meets West" cuisine.
The sushi and sashimi that was offered were very ordinary, so I figured I would try the "new" sushi (as Crystal calls it), which is really lightly cooked fish and beef. I was anticipating something like quickly seared scallop and flamed wagu (such as I had in Kyoto, Japan). I was served fish and meat that was bland and smothered in oil and sesame. A tragedy for scallops and Wagu beef. (Not shown in the photo is the same cored cucumber and sliced cherry tomato garnish. Why do that?)
Clearly what was presented was not sushi (sashimi) at all, but something concocted to appeal to those who do not like or will not try raw fish. But why call it sushi?
I did enjoy my Black Cod, but found it to be slightly overcooked...though I know many are concerned with allegedly undercooked fish, so I guess I am being a bit nit-picky. But I do love a good black cod!
I also tried the Udon Noodles which were fine, looked great, but the broth was unexceptional.
After this, my server, when I saw her, was really pushing tempura...not exactly a Nobu favorite. I succumbed and did try the lobster tempura. For tempura it was quite good.
I wanted to find Nobu, but sadly that didn't happen. My meal wasn't bad, it just wasn't the exceptional I had previously enjoyed in the restaurant and, when I had one, in my Penthouse (something not available to those in a stateroom).
But still wanting to find Nobu, I returned another evening to sit at the Sushi Bar; a second visit (assuming you also dine at Prego - see below for a much better experience) costs $30 per person. Suffice it to say, I was again not impressed by either the service or the cuisine...and I went there looking to find ways to elevate my experience!
This time I asked if there were any premium saki, as last time it was not offered. I was told there was one, but it has to be purchased by volume so he would bring me the wine list. And there it was: One premium saki with no description of its characteristics, but a hefty price tag. So I asked it the sommelier to could tell me about it and was told, "I don't really know." So I just ordered the included cold saki and left it at that.
I then spoke with one of the sushi chefs and requests a few sashimi items. I received instead a platter with my requests and some other items...including some farmed salmon, which I never will eat. The two tiny slices of octopus were dry and flavorless, most all were at best OK, though the scallops were delicious. The ubiquitous cucumbers were also present.
I ordered the Tuna Tataki and it was acceptable, but as you can see from the photo below, the tuna was not exactly top quality and was drying out.
And then food I didn't order started to appear, as if this is "just what is done". Some sort of King Crab dish that wasn't very good (it has a warm mayonnaise-type dressing) ...
followed by the Lobster Tempura and then the "new" sushi (cooked) that I didn't like the first time...and it was even less well received this time because I was sitting at the Sushi Bar, wanted sushi and sashimi, I didn't order it, and I already knew I didn't want it because it isn't very good.
I then order white fish, though what sort was never said, but it was - fortunately - excellent.
Feeling obligated to try a sushi roll, I ordered the Soft Shell Crab roll. It was, again, acceptable, but most certainly of lower quality than I had previously experienced on my prior Crystal cruises.
The chef then presented me with lobster tacos that I didn't order. While the filling was quite good, the shells were too thick and overcooked in underheated oil, or so they tasted.
In the end, my impression is that the Umi Uma version of Crystal's Nobu is a reflection of clear cutbacks in quality and an expanded Westernized menu trying to appease the palates of those who ultimately do not like or are not attracted to Japanese cuisine. As for the uninspired service, I am baffled because almost everywhere else on the Crystal Symphony the service is excellent.
So with my formerly favorite restaurant disappointing, I also tried Prego, which in the past was disappointing. This time Prego and my charming and very efficient server, truly made for a wonderful dining experience! (Of course, having some humpback whales spouting and diving next to me didn't hurt the atmosphere!)
The sommelier promptly came over to my table and had a discussion with me about my wine options for the evening. Having decided on a Banfi Italian chardonnay to pair with my beautifully presented Lobster and Octopus Carpaccio that was presented with just the right amount of oil (though a lot of capers!) I settled in for an evening of "enjoyable dining" rather than "eating".
A Caprese salad followed though I knew that having rich, red, ripe tomatoes on a cruise ship is near impossible. The bufala mozzarella was light and rich paired nicely with some extra very good olive oil and aged balsamic. A refreshing interlude to be sure.
I had the Prego classic cream of mushroom soup in a bread bowl at the suggestion of my server. She asked me if I had had it before (I had) and if I thought it was too thin now. I actually liked it a bit thinner and said that when eaten with a bit of the bread bowl scraped with one's spoon it was actually better. Talking about cuisine and discussing different perspectives...even on little things...is enjoyable.
I followed this with the seafood pasta with fettucini rather than spaghetti (not a problem for Crystal) with a light red sauce. This brought the sommelier over and after deciding I didn't want to purchase a bottle of Barolo, I settled on a decent complimentary Chianti Classico Reserva. The pasta was fresh and perfectly cooked with just enough seafood (clams, mussels and shrimp).
But I also asked for a small side of the lasagna because it is another Prego classic. I have tried it twice before and, while good, it ain't no stinkin' lasagna I have had in Italy or the New York area. It was very well prepared and, to me, something other than lasagna but might be worth ordering if you are not expecting mama's lasagna.
For me, with two included alternative dining evenings, I would wholeheartedly recommend Prego for both nights.
Silk is the reservation suggested, but not required, no charge casual Chinese-ish restaurant that was installed during the Crystal Symphony's latest refurbishment. As I noted in my prior article I tried it for lunch and was left uninspired, so I thought I would give it a try for lunch and dinner. Lunch was exactly the same, so now onto dinner.
When the space is empty is it quite attractive with its semi-open kitchen and beautiful living walls of plants. However, when Silk is full, it sounds and feels more like a cafeteria...especially on this cruise as there are many children onboard. Possibly with the magradome open or dining later in the evening the ambiance would be better.
Anyway, to make sure I gave it a fair shot, I ordered a lot of food. Things started out well with a crisp Duck Salad...with the duck hidden below a pile of greens. The duck was perfectly prepared and the salad was delicious and had interesting ingredients.
This was followed by your "standard" starters of dumplings, potstickers and a fried shrimp ball. I found all of them to be quite bland and uninspired.
Next up was Hot and Sour Soup. Now, having just been in China and having the best of the best at a Michelin star restaurant, it isn't fair to judge Crystal's soup against it. For an American-style hot and sour soup it was good, but needed a bit more "hot"...but I am certain it, like most else on cruise ships, has been toned down to appease most guests.
I started my journey to the Crystal Symphony with a late night text advising me that my 6:20 AM flight to San Francisco had been canceled. Fortunately, with my status United put me on the next flight arriving into San Francisco at 11:05 AM, so I could head right to the ship. (My friend who was on the same flight, but heading to Singapore, wasn't so lucky; she was forced to drive 4.5 hours in rush hour(s) traffic to make her connecting flight.) Oh the glamour of travel...not!
I arrived at the old cruise terminal a/k/a warehouse and was greeted by more Crystal representatives than I have ever seen for any other cruise line. It was, most certainly, a nice touch. From the time I entered the terminal to being check-in (which is done onboard in the lobby) was all of fifteen minutes! Fastest check-in ever.
Crystal Symphony Pool Deck
But then I was faced with an unusually late (for me) 3:00 PM time the stateroom would be ready. This gave me time to wander the ship a bit, find a spot in the new Silk restaurant area to do some work and then, at 1:30 PM, check out Silk's fixed menu lunch offerings.
Crystal Symphony's Silk Restaurant is bright, airy and not small enough not to feel overwhelming
I opted for the spring rolls, which were very small and deep fried, and not very inspiring. I then tried the ramen bowl and, again, it was just OK...but definitely a nice alternative to the normal embarkation day buffet offerings. Perspective! (I will try Silk for dinner one night and see if things are more inspired.)
After another stroll around the ship the staterooms were released, so I headed to my to unpacke and get settled. My stateroom is called a Deluxe Stateroom with Extremely Limited View. I was assigned this stateroom as I am here solely as the host for Ensemble Travel Group guests, but with some better staterooms available I would have thought Crystal would have given me a bit of an assist. Nope!
Crystal Symphony's Deluxe Stateroom with Extremely Limited View
Regardless, my stateroom is the same as the staterooms with actual views and verandas, so from that perspective let me describe them; noting my last Crystal cruise was in a Penthouse Suite and the one before that in a Veranda stateroom, so some perspectives may be a bit tainted from a luxury point of view.
Crystal Symphony's Deluxe Stateroom
Crystal Symphony's Deluxe Stateroom's closet.
My stateroom is comfortable, but feels a bit cramped for two...though as I am traveling alone it is fine. To give perspective, the stateroom is larger than that you will find on Oceania, Viking, Azamara, Celebrity, etc., but the lifeboat view and no veranda visually closes the space in. There is enough cabinet storage for a 7-10 day cruise, but hanging space - limited to a closet by the bed - is a bit tight if traveling on longer cruises; especially with Crystal's formal optional night. Crystal provides a stocked mini-refrigerator with sodas, two Heineken beers and two Pelligrino waters that will be replenished as needed. The small leather sofa is showing its age, but is comfortable enough.
Speaking of showing it's age: There are no electrical outlets by the bed, no less USB charging ports. But there is a nice 40-inch flat screen television recessed into the wall. And the television station selection is very good, though the movie selections are of good quality, but limited.
The bathroom is tight, but has everything from dual sinks to a soaking tub and more than enough storage. The lighting is a bit harsh, however. This is an upgrade from the original bathrooms on this ship, but despite the effort and design improvements this is definitely "Do your business and get out" rather than one where you feel like lingering. (Applying body lotion, for example, would be an exercise in flexibility so it is best left to the bedroom area.) That said, it is a huge upgrade from non-Penthouse bathrooms on Oceania and Azamara...who compete with Crystal in the upper premium category...and it does have a bathtub.
Large tubes of Etro shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion are provided as well as two types of hand soap. I am not in love with them. They work, but you might want to bring your own.
When many of my clients tell me they want the least expensive staterooms because they never spend time in them I often respond, "You don't spend time in your stateroom because it sucks!" Well, my stateroom doesn't suck, but when I am taking a nap and look out my window and awaken to see two crew making adjustments to the lifeboat while leaning on my window, and who easily could peer in (though supposed one-way glass is supposed to prevent same...except when it is darker outside or your lights are on), it is a creepy experience.
Crewmember in a lifeboat looking at/into my stateroom
I like to sleep with the curtains open, if only to have the morning sun wake me. Now I have to question if that is a good idea. (Note: The second night I slept with the curtains closed because we were arriving at 7:00 AM in a tender port and I am glad I did...noting the noise - crew talking and tender movements, not the sun, woke me.) In short, for the price difference - even to an unobstructed oceanview/no veranda - Take It!
After settling in and doing my initial Ensemble Travel hosting duties, I headed to Avenue Saloon for a pre-dinner cocktail. Crystal's Bar Manager, Mariya, let me know about Crystal's Gin & Tonic menu and I am very glad she did. With something like a dozen different G&T's to choose from, and featuring Fever Tree tonic as well, I had to give at least one a try...and I am very glad I did. It was outstanding from presentation to flavor!!
For dinner I thought I would go casual and try out the Churascurria, or Brazilian steakhouse, concept. The Lido buffet area for breakfast and lunch is turned into a semi-sit down restaurant in the evening. After you enjoy your buffet of salads and starters, waiters come around to your table with long skewers of various meats.
You are given a very typical coaster which says Yes on one side and No on the other. In Brazil it says Sin or No and, just as in Brazil, this signal that you want no more is ignored and more food is offered!
Mariya, the bar manager, mentioned to me that there was a traditional Caipirinha Cart (actually a station due to space limitation) offering up one of my favorite cocktails; using cachaça - a Brazilian sugarcane-based liquor. I ordered a caipirinha and a very well prepared cocktail appeared in an instant!
I was also presented with a bread basket with gluten-free and regular bread as well as three sauces for my meats.
After my cocktail I asked for a glass of red wine; expecting some solid Argentinian Malbec. However, the selection was more limited than I expected and without any real knowledge of the wine beyond Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc. Fortunately, the waiter brought over the bottle so I could see what he was offering; saving the moment. The wine was fine; not remarkable.
My meal started with a tuna ceviche and then a mildly spicy crab soup (truly a bisque) followed by a sort of black bean fabada; all of which were quite tasty.
This was promptly followed by fun rounds of very well-prepared meat and shrimp offered by my very personable waiter. Everything from lamb to veal to pork to pork sausage to shrimp. And each was perfectly cooked. (If you want truly rare meat, as I prefer, it might be a challenge but medium rare was always available.)
It was definitely time to turn my coaster over to No and end my very enjoyable dinner. But the night was not over!
I headed to one of my favorite spaces on the high seas: The Connoisseur's Club where those wanting to smoke cigars (or cigarettes) can light up and relax in an elegant and comfortable setting.
After a generously poured Glenfiddich whisky and a Partagas cigar (I brought my own, but Crystal does maintain a decent humidor), it was time to call it a night.
Interested in a Crystal Cruise? Give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
Seabourn has (finally) given information out on some of the accommodations on its expedition ship, Seabourn Venture.
Seabourn Venture Veranda Suite
There are eight types, with the standard veranda suites divided into four categories, dependent on location:
Seabourn has not publicly announced the specifics of the Owner's, Signature or two deck/double veranda Wintergarden Suites, but as for the others:
Seabourn Venture Veranda Suite Bathroom
Veranda Suite: This suite ncludes a separate seating area with a coffee/dining table for two, which is ideal for in-suite dining at any time of day. A queen-sized or two twin beds, spacious walk-in closet and sliding glass door leading to a private furnished veranda. Total space: 355 sq. ft. (33 sq. m.) including veranda of 78 sq. ft. (7 sq. m.)*
Veranda Spa Suite: There are only two of these suites, located on Deck 7, feature the same amenities as the Veranda Suite and include additional in-suite spa amenities and spa concierge service available in conjunction with Spa & Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil, including a selection of blossoming teas and fresh juices. Total space: 355 sq. ft. (33 sq. m.) including veranda of 78 sq. ft. (7 sq. m.)
Seabourn Venture Panoramic Veranda Suite
Panoramic Veranda Suite: These 16 suites (a favorite of mine!) feature a semi-circular expansive floor-to-ceiling windows providing a spectacular perspective of the world outside. A queen-sized bed or twin beds are also oriented to face the windows, allowing guests to enjoy views of beautiful scenery and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The bathroom features a separate shower and large soaking tub placed next to a window, providing relaxing views to the private furnished veranda and scenic outdoor landscapes. Total space: 417 sq. ft. (39 sq. m.) including veranda of 85 sq. ft. (8 sq. m.)
Seabourn Venture Penthouse Suite
Penthouse Suite: Located on Deck 8, include a living area with dining table for two. A separate bedroom that can be closed off from the rest of the suite and adjacent to a marble-lined bathroom with separate shower and bathtub. Penthouse Suites also come with a Nespresso® machine with a variety of coffee choices. Total space: 529 (49 sq. m.) including veranda of 96. (9 sq. m.)
Penthouse Spa Suite: The one Penthouse Spa suite, located on Deck 7. This suite features the same amenities as the Penthouse Suite coupled with the amenities of the Veranda Spa Suites. Total space: 637 sq. ft. (59 sq. m.) including veranda of 205 sq. ft. (19 sq. m.)
Note: Guests with disabilities will also find four handicapped-accessible suites available; two in V4 Veranda Suites and two in Penthouse Suites.
It is obvious that the concept by Seabourn and its interior designer, Adam Tihany, was not to recreate new accommodation spaces, but rather to have them feel familiar while, at the same time, giving them a warm, yacht-like, ambiance.
For more information on the Seabourn Venture, be sure to read my prior article:
I have, for years, been asking the question of each luxury cruise line, "What makes your cruise line so special?" and over the past decade Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, and Crystal have responded with a variety of answers; each seeking to differentiate themselves. (I would be remiss if I did not include Grill Class on Cunard, as well, though it is a fairly unique proposition.)
With the basics of open seating dining, included alcoholic beverages, prepaid or no gratuities, fine cuisine and excellent service and, for most, internet (limited or unlimited) now being ubiquitous and a number of the upper-premium (and even premium) lines also including these amenities either as an included aspect of their product or as an add-on, the differentiation has become not so obvious.
Many guests have their favorite cruise line and will never waiver from it. But truth be told, with Silversea and Crystal coming under new ownership and management (with the attendant upgrades to their ships), the Big Four luxury lines are truly becoming more similar than they are different. And as more ships are being built and the number of luxury cruise passengers are not growing as quickly as the cruise line capacities have, all I have really seen are pricing schemes to attract sales.
And those pricing schemes are making the differences even less so. For example, Silversea is promoting included air and Seabourn highly discounted air ala Regent Seven Seas (though Seabourn does not offer a credit if you do not use its highly discounted air...a somewhat different approach). Similarly, while Crystal has a 2.5% Full Early Pay Discount, now Silversea has a 10% Pay In Full by Month's End discount. And the list goes on. It is, alas, a dizzying array of promotions that seem to change almost as soon as the prior promotion settles in.
Add to this premium lines seeking to attract new not only "move up", but "move slightly down" guests. For example, Windstar now owns three former Seabourn luxury ships and is investing $250 Million into them by stretching them, repowering them, adding new dining venues and refurbishing the ships from stem to stern while adding 50 new suites to this all-suite trio. These 312 guest ships can be sailed without included alcoholic beverages. internet and prepaid gratuities...or you can pay $89 a day and get all of that plus unlimited laundry along with open-seat dining. So with all-suite ships with fine cuisine, great service (albeit more informal), and all the amenities, what makes the "luxury" lines better?
Azamara Club Cruises is another example. While it offers accommodations ranging from inside staterooms to suites, it provides an almost as inclusive experience (you do have to upgrade your included beverage package); especially for its suite guests.
And you can, with various promotions and packages, make an Oceania and even Celebrity, cruise such that all of the amenities are available (especially for suite guests) though you may encounter more people on their ships.
One thing I have learned is that if you sell on price rather than the exceptionality of your product, not only does the quality suffer, so does the bottom line. Why? Because the old axiom of needing to put "heads in beds" works on the more contemporary lines because onboard revenue is many times a bigger earner than the cruise fare itself, with all-inclusive products there is not much room for onboard revenue.
This results in a phenomenon that I have, unfortunately, seen time and time again: Those who pay the least for their cruise tend to be the ones that consume the most alcohol, waste the most food and demand the most of the crew. This does not mean that everyone who gets a great deal on a luxury cruise is going to engage in that conduct, but there is a large contingent that does because, well, there is an "It is free" or "I paid for it" mentality.
Now, I am all for great pricing, but cruising is supposed to be about more than price: Amenities. Itineraries. Fine Dining. Sea Days. More. And with so much capacity it is time for the luxury cruise lines to become creative. Having a particular restaurant or included amenity is not going to sell a cruise, only enhance it. So I ask again, "What makes your cruise line so special?"
For me there is a value proposition that goes beyond marketing on price, to wit: Things that make not only the cruise line, but the specific cruises special. Some ideas:
Creative, but approachable, itineraries (such as the unfortunately now impossible Cuba) are key. But, alas, not just different ports, but actively explaining why the ports are so worthwhile and having true experts to easily enhance the guest experience without having to call it an "expedition" or requiring zodiac rides (at additional cost).
Truly inspirational guest lecturers that is, ala Crystal, provided long in advance of the sailing. I have seen enough ex-military and historical lecturers in my lifetime so how about expanding far more into the arts and sciences; something Cunard has excelled at.
Headline entertainment is another woefully underutilized possibility in the luxury market. From classical virtuosos to rock and roll legends unplugged, I have a number of clients that travel (and usually not on cruises) to see their favorites...and not only to Las Vegas.
Unique and Inspiring One of a Kind Events are another. Azamara Club Cruises actually borrowed from Seabourn - who subsequently abandoned the concept - of one special evening event each cruise. Seabourn, Windstar and others do hold evening events in Ephesus (Kusadasi, Turkey) - which they are finally returning to - but otherwise what once was a great draw could easily be reinstituted.
I am sure there are more things, but one has to start somewhere. And with literally every cruise line building new ships with no plans to retire any of their existing fleets, something has to be done to improve market penetration, guest satisfaction, previous guest demand and new-to-cruise/new to travel prospects.
If you would like more information or would like to book a cruise, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
I am sailing on the Crystal Symphony on June 17, 2019 as the Ensemble Travel Group host. It is not the most exciting cruise, but sailing out of San Francisco and into Vancouver makes on an eight day cruise makes for plenty of time to feel out the recently (2017) renovated Crystal Symphony with an easy overall trip where I can really use the ship.
Crystal has always been on the top of my list for luxury cruise lines; even for those that don't necessarily have a luxury budget as it offers excellent staterooms in addition to its now-expanded suite offerings. And, without question, the immediate push-back that the ships are too large is just not accurate. The size of the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity affords the opportunity to provide more options and probably the best enrichment program at sea. (And let's not forget the intimate Crystal Esprit which provides a more yacht-like experience with only 62 guests and a submarine.)
To be honest, Crystal went through a period of too much hype and proposed expansion for my liking. However, things have settled down and Crystal has returned to its more staid and steady self...with some significant improvements. So it is with this renewed optimism that I chose to cruise on Crystal again.
It is my first time sailing on the Crystal Symphony since April 2011when I did a very similar cruise with my children; though I did do a post-renovation ship inspection last year when she was in San Francisco for the day. My last Crystal experience was on the Crystal Serenity in November 2015. Since those experiences, there have been many changes at Crystal from management to philosophy to product. Hence I am excited to see how the changes have improved what I also consider one of the finest luxury cruise experiences available.
Traveling alone this time, and I am "relegated" to a Deluxe Stateroom with Large Picture Window and Extremely Limited View a/k/a nice stateroom with a view of a lifeboat, it gives me an opportunity to experience and explain to you my views on "I don't spend much time in my suite/stateroom so I don't care about view, etc." (I do have some Crystal clients that readily downgrade to these staterooms if they become available for just that reason.) I gotta get my head around it...if I can!
Crystal Symphony - Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom
One of the major changes are Dining Options and Venues:
Crystal restructured its main dining venue, now called Waterside, to be open seating (so the days of fixed seating/dining by reservation are gone). Also, there has been a significant increase in tables for two.
The former Lido Cafe is now called The Marketplace for breakfast and lunch and Churrascaria at dinner; providing a Brazilian-style barbecue with tableside meat carvings and, a favorite of mine, a welcome Caipirinha.
Silk Kitchen & Bar, which is a beautifully designed al fresco dining area featuring casual Chinese cuisine as well as late breakfasts (replacing Tastes) and burgers at the Trident Grill.
Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa remains onboard with a Umi Uma & Sushi Bar rebranding the previous Silk Road.
My least favorite specialty dining venue was Prego, the Italian restaurant, which remains...because so many love it. Between my extended time in Italy and growing up in the New York area, this has always been a tough sell for me. But my palate and opinion remain open to persuasion.
Oh, but there is a favorite of mine: The Vintage Room (which I have signed up for!). It is a culinary and oenophilic delight with a spectacular dining experience paired with some truly great wines. Limited to twelve guests, it is an experience that I highly recommend!
That gives me a huge number of options, especially on an eight-night cruise! (By the way, there is one Formal Option night on this cruise.)
Crystal Symphony also offers the Connoisseur Club cigar lounge; something that I have always enjoyed.
Connoisseur Club cigar lounge - Crystal Symphony
During the Crystal Symphony refit something unexpected happened, but which clearly focused on the more luxury side of its product (as opposed to the extremely limited view stateroom I am in): Crystal reduced the number of guests to 848, so that it could increase the number and type of suites; including the new Seabreeze Penthouses. I will discuss them in a later article.
Crystal has also installed complimentary internet throughout the ship.
Now, you might ask, "What is Eric going to be doing on this West Coast cruise?" Well, let me tell you!
This cruise's itinerary is:
1 Jun. 17, Mon SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA Embark PM - 2 Jun. 18, Tue SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, USA - 6:00 PM 3 Jun. 19, Wed MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA, USA 7:00 AM 5:00 PM 4 Jun. 20, Thu CRUISING THE WEST COAST OF USA - - 5 Jun. 21, Fri ASTORIA, OREGON, USA 9:00 AM 2:00 PM 6 Jun. 22, Sat SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, USA 8:00 AM 9:00 PM 7 Jun. 23, Sun VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA 8:00 AM 9:00 PM 8 Jun. 24, Mon VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA 8:00 AM - 9 Jun. 25, Tue VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA - Disembark AM
I want to mention that Crystal Cruises does something that I wish all of the cruise lines would do: Voluntourism. You essentially give up a small amount of your time to assist worthy causes in some of the ports Crystal visits. Last time my children and I helped clean a beach in Astoria, Oregon. (I remember arriving there with my Jersey Shore kids and my son saying, "Dad, this beach is already clean!"...but he learned that appearances are deceiving as we still filled a large bag with plastic and litter.) This time I am going to assist at Foodbanks in San Francisco and Astoria. Well worth two mornings! (I am also hoping there is enough interest in the Voluntourism program as fewer guests than I would have expected take advantage of these opportunities.)
I am not sure what I am doing in San Francisco that first day/night, but heck: It's San Francisco!
Being a marine biology nut, the Monterey Aquarium is a definite.
Astoria, Oregon is a voluntourism event.
In Seattle I will be meeting up with the President of Windstar Cruises and, well, heck: It's Seattle!
Victoria is the Ensemble Experience, which I am hosting, with some picturesque stops and an exploration of Chinatown as well as the Inner Harbor, with plenty of time for wandering off on my own afterward.
I was just in Vancouver for a few days last year, but there are some seafood and other culinary spots I may want to check out.
I get ready to embark on the Crystal Symphony I want to encourage you to consider Crystal for your next cruise; whether it be moving up from Celebrity or Oceania or moving over from one of the other luxury lines. So if you have questions or want me to dive deeper into any aspect of a Crystal cruise, let me know!
If you would like more information on Crystal Cruises or would like to book a cruise, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
I spend a lot of time writing articles about luxury cruises and expedition cruises, but I think not enough on another form of boating: Kayaking.
When I was young I would canoe the lakes of Vermont and Upstate New York. I loved the sound of the water hitting the hull, the breeze (hopefully) on my skin, the smell of the water, and the sense of being in control of my journey. Back then kayaking wasn't that much of a "thing".
As I grew older, I would head out up the rivers and coastline of the Jersey Shore in my 19-foot center console fiberglass fishing boat. I had many of the same sensations, but felt a bit more distant from them as the sides of the boat kept me just that much further from the water than my canoe did and the engine noise and smells interfered with my senses. Back then kayaking wasn't that much of a "thing".
As I grew yet older, I discovered yachting and cruising throughout the world. I had many of the same sensations but felt even more distant from them as the yachts and ships held me yet higher and more protected from the water. Back then kayaking wasn't that much of a "thing".
Seabourn provides you with a dry suit when kayaking. Not exactly a fashion statement, but it keeps you dry and warm
But now Kayaking is a Thing! And I can again love the sound of the water hitting the hull, the breeze (hopefully) on my skin, the smell of the water, and the sense of being in control of my journey.
Kayaking is now available with a significant number of cruise lines visiting Alaska, Antarctica and other remote regions of Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland and more. Whether it is Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, Lindblad Expeditions, etc., the option is there and it is one that I highly encourage you to experience.
To put the rarefied experience of kayaking in Antarctica into perspective: There are only about 65,000 people that visit Antarctica in a year. That includes those that cruise by (never touching land), researchers and all others. Of those how many do you think actually have and take advantage of the opportunity to kayak? It is a very special experience. (And while more people kayak in Alaska, think about all those mega cruise ships with thousands and thousands of passengers and the fact that maybe a dozen will kayak and of those that do, most will not experience it as it should be.)
My kayaking experience in Antarctica with Seabourn and Humpback whales What a view! What sounds! What an Experience!
During my Seabourn Quest Antartica journey in January 2019 I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time with two kayaking legends: Trevor Potts and Robert Englstaff. They, in two very different ways, gifted me with some great kayaking perspectives.
Trevor Potts is a character; a rough and ready Scotsman to be sure, but if you spend time with him, he is actually a big softy with a heart of gold. In 1993-4 Trevor successfully recreated Shackleton's 1916 epic rescue mission from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the 24 foot (7.5 meter) boat, the James Caird. In 2001 he completed Shackelton's mountain crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness on South Georgia Island; a 22 mile (as the crow flies) journey over glaciers, snowfields and icy slopes with a 4,500-foot rise. Trevor has also engaged in such other incredible events as kayaking from Alaska to Russia across the Bering Sea. Interestingly, in all the hours I spent with him, we spent almost no time actually talking about these feats, but on a more personal level.
Robert (Bob) Egelstaff is a far more outwardly introspective (yes, that is a thing) individual, but as a 30+ year dear friend of Trevor, equally adventurous and was Trevor's companion crossing the Bering Sea and recreating Shackelton's boat journey as well as hiking the Himalayas, European Alps and the polar regions among so many other journeys. But as much as they have in common, Robert shared more than the actual experiences with me, he shared the emotions of those experiences...and that is what touched my soul. We spent some quality time together.
I will always recall the three of us walking back to the ship in Punta Arenas after meeting up at Shackleton's Bar. Over the few miles, we walked I mostly listened...to two mates talking about educating youth and their various adventures creating those experiences. You would never know what lay within these two men's past. Amazing and truly awe-inspiring!
During one of Bob's talks on the Seabourn Quest as our time in Antarctica drew to a close - as we crossed the Drake Passage heading to the Falkland Islands - he offered us a poem he wrote during our time there. He gave me permission to share it with you:
"Seals snort a greeting close to our dipping paddles" (c) Robert Engelstaff - January 2019
ANCIENT CRAFT – in praise of kayaking in Antarctica.
(A celebration of the collective achievement of all the guests who kayaked in Antarctica)
What do those crazy kayakers do? We go to secret places where the birds and animals are curious about us and are attracted by our silent approach and our yellow boats.
Penguins look at us with curiosity and swim over to say “Hola”. We watch the them torpedo through the water and see the whale raise its tail.
Seals snort a greeting close to our dipping paddles and the Wilson’s storm petrel shows us the yellow webs of its feet as it patters across the surface of the sea.
We see the small silver fish in the tern’s beak, hear the coughing bark of the bathing Gentoo and smell the nests of the roosting blue-eyed shags.
We feel the sting of snow on our faces and smile at the headwind, tucked in tight to the sea-washed, grey-granite shore and know we are secure and living our lives at that moment in time in wild Antarctica.
That’s why we return to the ship with rosy cheeks and wild eyes, recounting tall-tales of incredible exhibits in nature’s art gallery and the bobsleigh event at the Penguin Olympics.
(c) Robert Engelstaff - January 2019
One stormy day we kayaked on a narrow strip of calm-water tucked in below the cliffs on the far-side of the bay. As the storm gathered we cruised the waters beneath terminal moraines and shattered basalt towers, tucking-in close, wrapped-up tight and keeping our paddles low.
A careful line was paddled to ensure that our kayaks were far enough out from the glacier to avoid tsunamis from calving ice and close enough in to avoid being blown out to sea by the wind.
Williwaws spinning across the surface of the ice-enclosed bay beneath thunder-grey skies as our small, yellow-craft weaved their way beneath the turquoise, heavily-crevassed ice-walls of the glaciers.
We beached on the black sands beneath the old whaling transit posts and reflected on our achievement and contrasted our experience to that of the sealers from 200 years ago and acknowledged the resourcefulness of these desperados who’s “pain and hunger was driving them home” in the short Antarctic summer when “it’s hard to tell the night-time from the day”.
Fortunes were made and lives were lost in those far harsher times but the cappuccinos in The [Seabourn] Square were calling and, after a wild Nantucket Sleigh Ride on the Zodiac, the warmth and comfort of the ship encompassed the returning kayakers back from their paddle on the wild side.
We attempt to imitate for others the sound of the wind and the music from the flutes and hollows of icebergs. Sometimes we appear to be distant as we reflect on our crazy adventures in snow-storm and sunshine, and we know, for sure, that for that short time in our kayaks, we have lived our lives to the fullest.
Now, imagine yourself being guided in your kayak by these two expedition leaders or others with extraordinary experiences, as opposed to a guide that simply knows how to kayak. And then imagine coming back to the ship and sharing your experience with them on a one-on-one basis. It gets personal...and memorable...and, alas, very special.
I will be sailing on the Seabourn Quest on December 19, 2019 for my third journey to Antarctica. If you would like to join me or discuss other kayaking and expedition options, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
Since my time in the Galapagos Islands in 2017 on the Celebrity Xperience I have been anxiously waiting for the delivery of the then just announced Celebrity Flora, as the first new, purpose-built, truly luxury expedition ship to sail in the Galapagos.
As you may be aware, Celebrity Cruises is part of the behemoth Royal Caribbean. What you might not be aware of is that Silversea Cruises is, as of a few months ago, also a part of Royal Caribbean's cruise lines (at least to the extent of 66+% of it). I expected, and it is coming to fruition, Silversea is now upping its game not only as to the onboard experience but its ships.
Silversea Silver Origin
Silversea has just announced its new Galapagos luxury ship, Silver Origin. (Great name!). Silversea is calling it, "The Most Elegant Ship to Ever Sail the Galapagos". Leaving the Celebrity Flora aside (see below), that is actually a pretty low bar as the current fleet is made up of old ships that have been buffed up.
Celebrity Flora: Step Aboard the Galapagos Islands - YouTube
As you will see, there are quite a number of similarities between these two luxury expedition ships - including that both are all-inclusive experiences from transfers to pre and post cruise hotels, tours and meals, internal air, as well as alcoholic beverages, wi-fi, gratuities and shore excursions on the ship.
But - at least at first blush - it appears that the Silver Origin is going to be focused on a more upscale, refined, decor and smaller group experiences while the Celebrity Flora is focused on more "modern luxury", and younger demographic with more informality.
Silver Origin's Base Camp NOTE: As there are many renderings in the Celebrity Flora video above, I am providing more renderings of the Silver Origin
The Silver Origin will carry up to 100 guests in fifty suites (all with verandas) in eight different categories. this is quite similar to her cousin, the Celebrity Flora, which also carries 100 guests in fifty suites in six different categories.
Certain of the Silver Origin suites will have a Horizon Balcony which can convert the space from any "enclosed balcony" to additional suite space with floor to ceiling windows. This is a "new to Silversea", but not new to Celebrity concept. In fact, the Celebrity Flora has exactly the same thing; known as an "Infinite Veranda"; found in Ultimate, Premium and Sky Suites with Infinite Veranda categories. This is also the same concept found on Celebrity's newest ship, Celebrity Edge. (To me it seems more like a French Balcony as space is integral to the interior space and not really an outdoor area.)
The Silver Origin also has certain suites that have Oceanview Bathtubs or Oceanview Showers. The Ultimate and Premium Sky Suites on the Celebrity Flora have them as well.
The Celebrity Flora and Silver Origin both have two dining venues. The former has Seaside Restaurant and The Grill while the latter has The Restaurant and, you guessed it!, The Grill. Both are going to - necessarily and fortunately - focus on fresh Ecuadoran cuisine with a focus on fresh (not frozen) seafood. The Silver Origin will continue with a Silversea favorite Hot Rocks at The Grill in the evenings where you are given a superheated stone to cook your meal on.
Silver Origin Terrace Lounge
The Celebrity Flora will have a "glamping" option where you can rent a cabana, have a special dinner and cocktails, a star viewing guide and then sleep under the stars. I do not believe the Silver Origin will have this option. It will, however, have butlers for all suites and the highest ratio of guides to guests (1:10).
Celebrity Flora's Hideaway with Glamping Cabanas at the rear right
Both will feature more purpose-built lounges for nightly presentations and orientation for the next day's activities and explorations. On the Celebrity Flora it is the Discovery Lounge and on the Silver Origin it is the Explorer Lounge. Both will have an Observation Lounge high up and forward on the ship.
Silver Origin Explorer Lounge
On the technical side, both will have highly advanced water filtration systems and some of the most advanced energy efficiencies built in. So everything from emissions to plastic water bottles will be reduced, if not totally eliminated.
Both ships have Dynamic Positioning; something you will find on more and more ships; especially expedition vessels that visit environmentally sensitive areas, such as the new Seabourn Venture. Basically, the ship uses its azipods and thrusters to automatically keep the ship in the same position. This technology has been around for a few years in the superyacht and deep sea exploration industries, so I am pleased it is finding its way into the cruise industry.
So which do you choose: Silver Origin or Celebrity Flora? That to me is an interesting question! While I am confident Silversea's guests will most likely loyally book the Silver Origin and Celebrity's guests will most likely book Celebrity Flora (especially since Celebrity's Captain's Club provides significant value added to a premium product), I want to know how the onshore and in-water experiences are going to be presented to the guests.
Why? Because in the end, the Galapagos is about nature and observing/appreciating it. Having been there I am well aware that larger groups can adversely impact your experience as trails get crowded, the quiet observation can be shouted out by those less courteous, and snorkeling can become a social event rather than a person quiet observation of marine iguanas feeding or a seal playing with you or watching penguins feed.
This is most certainly a "Royal" Pair of Luxury Galapagos Expedition ships that I am very enthusiastic about; not only because of the luxury option now being truly available, but the thought and design that has gone into both of these ships from an environmental and product delivery standpoint.
Interested in a Silversea, Celebrity or other Galapagos expedition cruise, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
Three things have happened in the past few weeks that have brought Viking Cruises to the fore in my mind...and not in a good way:
The Viking Sun's near catastrophe
The Viking Idun collision with a chemical tanker (The Viking Freya collided with a bridge in 2016)
The collapse of river cruise pricing
I have, from early on, been very concerned about Viking; first its river cruise product and now its ocean product. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.
First, Viking has unabashedly been building ships as fast as it can. The owner, Tor Hagen, is not concerned with profits, or the overall cruise quality, but market-share. as Forbes Magazine noted in its April 2019 article, "He is borrowing cash furiously (the company's debt is $2.5 billion) to build more ships and has also raised equity capital". (Compared to the behemoth Royal Caribbean and its four brands at about $7 billion, it is scary.) When Viking's requirement for payment in full upfront is added to the mix (it has to service all that debt somehow) it is very concerning.
But more concerning than Viking's financial health (always take out third party - not Viking's - travel insurance just in case it winds up shutting its doors if the economy or other factors seriously slow its sales) is the fact that Viking is pretty much single-handedly destroying the river cruise market by having too many ships so supply outweights demand. River cruising started out a great way to visit quaint towns along Europe's rivers, but it has transformed into those villages overrun with tourists and having to traverse three ships tied up to each other just to get to shore. And because it was, peak season sailings would sell out close to a year in advance. Now easing that with more supply is one thing, but now the situation is that there are almost "fire sale" pricing by some river cruise lines during peak season...and that, in the long term, is highly problematic.
Further, Viking is clearly not concerned with preserving the quaint villages, but rather using them for its financial advantage...and then moving onto the next small village that another river cruise line has begun to utilize and overrunning that one...and so it goes.
Only two of six sides of three ships have a view and two ships have to pass through other ships just to get to land
Second, is that Viking has spent a large fortune (not a small one) on marketing "luxury" that is not actually luxury; literally flooding the market in print and television. That marketing, while obviously effective, is not truly in the best interest of the river or ocean cruise industry because - in real terms - it lowers the bar by claiming a middling product is "luxurious"...and that is over and above the abuse of the small villages.
To be clear, there is "luxury" and "perceived luxury". Viking's owner, Tor Hagen, designs and builds what he wants, what he perceives as the ultimate experience..and then he markets the heck out of it to convince people that is what they want...when they actually don't know what they want. It may be great marketing, but it is not what "luxury" is about.
Do you want an intimate experience? Not even close. Viking has 190 passengers on its river cruise ships vs. say AmaWaterways average of 160 on the same size ship.
Do you want outdoor covered areas? Not happening.
Do you want sofas and other comfortable seating to lounge about outside? Not happening.
Do you want art in your stateroom? Nope.
Do you want an actual chair in your stateroom? You need a veranda...and it is basically a desk chair.
Do you want comfortable seating in your stateroom? You need to book a suite.
Do you want to enjoy the publicized "curated" library - Limited books and limited austere seating
Do you want the claimed creative luxury dining experience? Nope. Limited menu and cramped space between tables
Do you want small group tours? Nope. Full bus tours...unless you pay for an upgraded tour.
Who doesn't get to sit in a chair???
Third, I am very concerned about the Viking ship construction and the quality of Viking's manning. I have seen the Viking river and ocean ships and, to my fairly trained eye, I am not impressed. They look like they have been built to minimum standards. To me - and most of the world - meeting the minimum standards of construction and design is not enough...and it is barely enough when it comes to passenger safety.
Put into play, in my opinion there was absolutely no excuse for the Viking Sun's near catastrophe setting out in an extreme gale coupled with a poorly designed lubricating system that is known to be susceptible to failure in rough seas; especially if fluid levels are not kept at higher than minimum required levels. And the system was designed...or better so flawed...as to virtually shut down all propulsion. So only now Viking is adjusting its requirements fleetwide? Really? Those things were considered acceptable?
Why did the ship's captain (master) set out in a forecasted extreme gale? And why did he not make sure all systems were topped up and ready for such weather conditions? And why did he order the ship to be evacuated, putting so many - including the rescuers - in potentially even more danger? Was that master, or the home office instructing him, truly qualified and making the appropriate decisions?
By the way, if you saw the video, you saw the very light (but attractive) Scandinavian furniture flying all over the place. Next time you complain about why the furniture is so heavy on the other cruise lines you will know why!
Alas, this was not an isolated incident. Just a month later a Viking river ship collided with a chemical tanker. How many other river or ocean cruise line ships do you see having such incidents? Well, in 2016 two crew were killed when a Viking river ship ran into a bridge shearing off its wheelhouse. (To be fair other cruise lines have had mishaps such as sailing into an extreme storm...but nothing like what happened to these Viking ships.)
There are Great Alternatives
With all of these issues and concerns, there is a reason that when clients come to me wanting to book a Viking ocean or river cruise they - literally every time - wind up booking with a different river or ocean cruise line.
If you think about it, now knowing what you know: What is it - other than great marketing - that makes Viking a better river or ocean cruise line than the others? Personally, I am hard-pressed to think of one.
In closing, I do want to say this: I want Viking to be a wonderful and responsible product and one I can confidently sell to you. But every journey I sell, land, sea or river, essentially has Goldring Travel's endorsement. That is something that has to be earned; not marketed to. Many companies have earned it!
If you have any questions or wish to discuss booking a land, sea or river journey, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!
Bottom Line: Don't Wait For Seabourn's New Luxury Expedition Ships!
OK, now that I have said it, you are asking, "Hold on! Huh? Why not?".
The reasons are quite simple:
If you are interested in visiting say Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Patagonia or Norway...or even Alaska, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia these are destinations; not ships.
With Seabourn you will have the same super-high quality Expedition Team
Life circumstances change so waiting for a new ship just might result in you never getting to go
The new Expedition ships are going to other locations which you may well find more or less compelling (i.e. more remote and immersive with few traditional ports)
And, of course, there is taking advantage of lower fare opportunities that exist because demand may wane while others are holding off for those new ships...and their anticipated higher prices.
Taking an expedition cruise in 2019 or 2020 is anything but a compromise! In fact, Seabourn Expedition Cruising is in a period of transition and transformation. You can bet that some of the possible enhancements that will be available on the new Seabourn Venture may well be integrated into the Seabourn Quest (and Seabourn Sojourn) experiences.
To put things into a timing perspective, the Seabourn Venture will not be delivered until June 2021 and the second ship will not be delivered until May 2022. That means if you want to visit Antarctica in Seabourn luxury you will have to wait for three years; foregoing November 2019-February 2020; November 2020-February 2021 and then, hopefully you can book a suite starting with the November 2021 inaugural season...and then go during the time period you actually desire. (With only 232 guests on each of the sailing, you might just have to wait four years!)
And, of course, as so many have discovered, Antarctica is, for many, anything but a "once in a lifetime" journey. (I have quite a few repeat guests.) So if you go on the Seabourn Quest and love it you can go again on the Seabourn Venture!
Speaking of the Seabourn Venture, Seabourn has announced some of features of the Seabourn Venture, which is a stunning vessel.
Seabourn Venture's Expedition Lounge
Seabourn Venture will have the following features:
PC6 Ice-Strengthened Hull which will allow the Seabourn Venture to operate in medium summer/autumn first year ice rather than just thin first year ice.
Ability to cruise further north and south as well as warm and tropical locations
Highly maneuverable with twin Azipods and three bowthrusters
Dynamic positioning - Ship maintains location without the use of anchors (great for the environment)
Landing Zones and Shell Doors (Port and Starboard) - Easy storage of your personal gear and direct access to zodiacs for fast and easier boarding
26 member Expedition Team
Two six guest submarines
A number of other accessories, the use of which is dependent on the location of the expedition, including:
The Expedition Lounge (above), with its two touchscreens (navigation and weather charts, etc.), bar and lounge areas is the hub of the Seabourn Venture where guests gather before and after their expeditions.
Seabourn Venture's Discovery Center
The Discovery Center with its 32 foot wide and 8 foot high high definition video display is where the Seabourn Ventures team will hold its briefings and lectures and special guests will hold their Seabourn Conversations. One very cool feature is that the daily submarine voyages will be shown so that those who were not submariners that day can truly appreciate the underwater world that surrounds them.
Seabourn Venture's Landing Zone
The Landing Zone is where guests will "gear up" with their stored personal items (rubber boots to snorkels and fins, etc.) and then be able to clean them so they are ready for the next day. Once geared up the guests are, in small groups, escorted down one deck to the Deck 2 Shell Doors and directly onto the zodiacs waiting for them.
Seabourn Venture's Atrium
There is more to come, including the popular Seabourn Square, multiple dining venues, the various all-veranda oceanfront suites, spa and, without limitation, outdoor deck areas.
In the meantime, it is a big world out there and waiting around for a new ship is not the way to see it! If you are interested in a Seabourn Expedition cruise with the Seabourn Ventures team now or in 2020, give me a call, drop me an or send me a Facebook message!