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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


Seabourn Cruise Line

MS Seabourn Spirit

Rating:Five Stars
Submit your review hereSubmit your review
Operator:Seabourn Cruise Line
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1989
Length / Tonnage: 439 / 10,000
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 106 / 212
Officers / Crew: Norwegian / European
Operating Area: Mediterranean and Black Sea, Africa, Southeast Asia and China, Indian Ocean
Telephone / Fax: Tel 131 0464 / Fax 131 0527

Review by Christopher E. Smith, TravelPage.com, Associate Cruise Editor

Seabourn Cruise Line dates from mid/late '80s, when the United States and much of the industrialized world was revelling in the "greed is good" days of the Reagan years. Lots of people were making lots of money and were spending it lavishly and ostentatiously. A Norwegian shipping man realized he might be able to tap into this group of spenders and provide them with cruises on ships of a scale not then available. It was the intention to follow extravagantly overpriced Sea Goddess, but to do it with ships large enough to actually deliver at least most of what was promised. Seabourn's original name was Signet Cruise Lines, but when the Texan company owning the name Signet objected, the people behind the cruise line scrambled and chose Seabourn. Signet or Seabourn had planned a trio of 10,000 ton cruise ships each to carry about 200 passengers, all accommodated in what they called suites. Finances allowed them to sign contracts for the construction of but two of these planned liners. The option for the third was picked up by the Kloster clan, and she was built for Royal Viking Line, and entered service as the ROYAL VIKING QUEEN.

It may well be argued that with the ROYAL VIKING SUN, Royal Viking Line had certainly overestimated both the draw of the company name and the willingness of their large core group of repeat passengers to shell out big bucks for high per diems. If they thought it was hard to fill the SUN, they should have thought longer and harder about trying to fill the ROYAL VIKING QUEEN....it just couldn't be done. Royal Viking passengers had been defecting in droves to other lines, particularly after 1990, to Crystal, where in exchange for two sitting dining, Royal Viking passengers used to Royal Viking's original ships with small standard cabins got far larger, more comfortable and better arranged quarters. So with the ROYAL VIKING QUEEN showing miserable occupancy rates, Kloster switched her to their premium brand, San Francisco based Royal Cruise Line, and she sailed for them as QUEEN ODYSSEY.

Nothing hurt Seabourn as badly as did the QUEEN ODYSSEY, because in both her first year with Royal Cruises as well as at least the first half of her second, rates for the QUEEN ODYSSEY, lower to start with than Seabourn's anyway, were discounted to "two for ones", resulting in a full QUEEN ODYSSEY and lightly booked Seabourn twins, because we are talking about three ships offering identical accommodations, the same public rooms, albeit in slightly different decor, and very little besides a few additional food offerings and a few extra service crew to differentiate the QUEEN ODYSSEY from the SEABOURN PRIDE or the SEABOURN SPIRIT. Seabourn executives, publicly at least, never asked themselves the question, "Are we offering enough to make our ships so attractive that intending QUEEN ODYSSEY passengers would pay the differential and sail with us instead of Royal Cruise Line?" Apparently the people writing the checks did......and at about the same time came Silversea.....so while so many industry observers and commentators continued to blithely call a race between Sea Goddess and Seabourn, they never bothered to pay attention to what was really going on.

Silversea rapidly stole the thunder, offering pretty much the same cabins as Seabourn, bigger, better and more numerous public rooms, and food and service at a very similar level....and they included the booze....which Seabourn stubbornly refused to do. And while Royal Cruise Line got further mired in the Kloster clan's financial troubles (for their NCL unit, Kloster had agreed to pay finance charges of 19% for the construction of the WINDWARD.....a whole other long story not to be told here)....the QUEEN ODYSSEY still continued to glean some of the Seabourn trade, but Silversea took a lot of it....and remember, the high luxury end of this market amounts to no more than six percent of the industry....even in a good year. And the mass market companies were introducing ships with better and better accommodations every season.

Fast forward to the fall of 1995, when the Kloster clan stood at the edge of a deep financial abyss, and came inches away from going belly up. Only radical steps to reorganize allowed them to continue. For Royal Cruise Line, that meant saying goodbye to the ROYAL ODYSSEY and STAR ODYSSEY, which were sold to Norwegian banks....farewell to the QUEEN ODYSSEY, which was sold for fifty five million dollars (half her building cost) to Seabourn. For Royal Cruise Line, the final step came in January, 1996 when Kloster pulled the plug and closed down the line. At San Juan that month, with Royal Cruise Line's crown and waves missing from her twin funnels, the QUEEN ODYSSEY was handed over at a ceremony held by the outdoor pool at 11:30am. We watched as Royal Cruise Line's flag came down, and Seabourn's went up. Seabourn ran the ship as QUEEN ODYSSEY for about the next six months, and during that time, maintained Royal Cruise Line's rate structure. It was only after the ship was renamed SEABOURN LEGEND that summer that they began to charge the same rates as they did for their other two ships....but lately it's been Silversea that's called the shots in the rate structure here....and over the last couple of years, Seabourn has both lowered their prices....though by no means to the reach of the mass market....and have dropped their charge for those dear little iced things, charging only for premium wines and highest end spirits.

Of all the superlatives one might heap on Seabourn....and most everything about these ships is five star.....the crew deserves the highest praise from us. They could be standoffish....stuffy.....distant....but they are not. Indeed, they know service.....when to back off, when to coddle......they've been correctly trained in their art and it shows. The layout of the ships, though user friendly, is a little bizarre. On first sight, the low ceilings might be offputting to the claustrophobic....but have a closer look. Beautifully appointed, comfortable, Seabourn ships are created to cocoon you from the world. They're also small enough to secure close in docks wherever they pull in. These ships are quiet havens.....nothing about Seabourn is jarring. Each day on board a Seabourn vessel is, without fail, a day of pampering.

Of course, no tipping on board is permitted......all drinks, save extra special vintages....are included. The dining is of the highest quality, the entertainment intimate and professional. And once again, the service......heaven on earth. But is a Seabourn cruise a "good deal"? Well, as an example....the beloved Sagafjord, whose quality most closely resembled what you'll get on Seabourn, ran a fifteen day cruise in 1965....and a suite similar to a Seabourn suite cost, in 1998 dollars, about $900.00 per person per day. Seabourn's tariffs are less!

Public Areas
The SEABOURN SPIRIT has more than enough public rooms for her small capacity of just over 200 passengers. Though none of the rooms is what I would call stunning, each handily serves it's desired function. The Horizon Lounge, up on Sky Deck, is a circular room providing wonderful unobstructed views....it's a light, airy room, perfect for whiling away a day or evening. Monte Carlo Deck's Club is the "swinging" lounge on the SPIRIT....it's the venue for cabaret style entertainment and it adjoins the small casino. The nearby boutique is open at sea, and videos for cabin viewing are found in the library....just take them as you want them. One level down, on Cabaret Deck, the Amundsen Lounge serves as the main gathering place on board. Its stage is just large enough to handle song and dance acts, and in many ports, wander in and you'll find a local folkloric show in progress. A large chunk of indoor Spa Deck space has been given to the gym, beauty salon, aerobics room and sauna/massage area. There's an outdoor pool nearby, two hot tubs, and for those seeking to be one with the ocean, on Gourmet Deck aft is the "Marina"....while in port, the stern of the ship opens out and a dock emerges....complete with pool and all manners of water sport equipment.

Eating on the SEABOURN SPIRIT, in one way, can be hazardous to your pocketbook.....the food is so good that if you have no self control....and I don't.....you might need a new wardrobe before your cruise is finished. Almost anywhere....almost anything....almost anytime....that sums up Seabourn's catering. Much of the food is purchased by the ship's chefs in ports along the way..... fresh ingredients are "de rigeur". The main dining room, understated and comfortable, accommodates you on an open sitting basis....a word with the maitre'd as to your evening's wish to dine alone or in company....and off you go to culinary bliss. The presentation tends to mimic nouvelle cuisine....small portions.....so chow hounds should double up their orders without shame....we do. With such a small passenger complement, it takes but a short word with your waiter to get most anything you want....without too much delay either....so if the siren sound of a double cheeseburger has you salivating.....or if you've not reached your limit of caviar intake....just ask...the staff will move mountains to get you what you want.

The Veranda Cafe is a delightful indoor/outdoor room for casual dining....for all meals. And should you wish to break bread at the most exclusive address on board.....go to your cabin and call room service. They'll convert your living room's coffee table into a full size dining table, and serve you any meal course by course. I'm a room service addict.....I've sometimes mused that I needn't have bothered to pack anything but day wear....because I could take every dinner in my cabin and not feel as if I'd missed out on anything!

The cabins are nothing short of remarkable......exceedingly comfortable, pretty to look at....and they have held their own against competing lines' newer accommodations. Seabourn cabins are designed for us lingerers.....those who like to spend lots of time lounging in privacy. At a minimum of 277 square feet, they're equipped with more than ample storage space.....large walk in closets, plenty of drawers and shelves, and dreamy bathrooms loaded with marble accents.....and a huge window in the living room area. The queen sized bed can be easily converted to two twins.

At your fingertips are a television with VCR.....and a yummy fully stocked bar....of course, room service is available at any time, and your cravings will be accommodated in an instant by the capable and friendly cabin crew. For anybody desiring larger cabins, some rooms can be joined in a "regal suite" arrangement......simply doubling the square feet and amenities....and Seabourn will replace the bed in one of the cabins and install a dining table. There are a handful of suites with tiny verandas....."classic suites" at 400 square feet, and two kinds of "owners suites", at either 530 or 575 square feet. I have to really nitpick to find fault with any of Seabourn's cabins....but my only beef is with the size and position of the private decks that come with these suites.....they're more like porches, and in the case of the "classic" and the largest "owners" suites, they face forward.....subject to oncoming wind while at sea. The decks that come with the smaller "owners" suites, category type "D", face out to the side of the vessel....the one drawback to these cabins is that some of the views are muddled by life boat apparatus.

Who Goes
The very well traveled, newer money, celebrities.....all frequent Seabourn. Of course, the affluent come in all shapes, sizes and ages.....and though not really set up for children, you'll find an occasional family on board.

The SPIRIT will move you....and her.....through the Mediterranean until late October....when she'll depart for Mombasa. While there, she'll offer a fourteen night cruise that will do that part of the world in depth. She'll then be off to Singapore, via the Seychelles and Sri Lanka...that trip is sixteen nights. From December until mid April, the SEABOURN SPIRIT will be based in Asia, with a variety of seven to sixteen night sailings....some include China, others Vietnam. In April, she'll begin the long journey back to the Mediterranean, with two cruises....one from Singapore to Mumbai, and the other from that Indian city to Haifa. She'll be in either the Mediterranean or the Black Sea until November, and then, for her, it's a return engagement in Africa.

A cruise on Seabourn might dent your finances.....it's not cheap. A two week Orient Cruise, at tariff, will set you back around $10,000.00 per person. But consider that booking similar accommodations on rival companies will cost about the same......but on most others, you'll be competing with many more passengers to get your requests fulfilled. If it is your custom to travel in style.....lodging in the best hotels, looking for the better restaurants, and frequenting quieter night spots....then consider a Seabourn cruise. Their ships visit places many of us only dream of....and as our favorite pretend relative, Auntie Mame, said, "Life is a banquet....and most poor suckers are starving to death". So if you've got the time and the dough, let Seabourn vie for your oceangoing home away from home.

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