Seabourn Quest: Crossing with Cruisers

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MagoGuide caught the Seabourn Quest for our 2014 eastward Atlantic crossing. Our 2013 crossings on the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) and even the Crystal Serenity had made us yearn for a smaller ship with a crew-to-passenger ratio within shouting distance of one-to-one. Also, after having to make our way to the rest of Western Europe from temporal as well as spatially isolated Lisbon for years, we were excited about the prospect of a fourteen-day passage that docked in our beloved Barcelona within bag drag distance of the Catalonia Love Shack. This post is an update of MagoGuide’s continuing coverage of ship travel (see Seabourn Odyssey and Crystal Serenity). At the end of this review, we provide our current ranking of these three trans-Atlantic options.

Cruising vs. Crossing

In order to place this review in context, a quick set of definitions is in order. While the Quest is classified as a cruise ship, our journey was technically a crossing or a transition. A cruise is a circular tour that starts and ends at the same port, while a crossing transits linearly from one part of the world to another. The vast majority of cruise ship sailings are cruises, because that is what cruisers want to do and thus where the money is. Since ships must often relocate seasonally between cruising locales, however, a crossing is thus an opportunity to make money on a logistical necessity.

The cruise industry is designed to accommodate consumers who are on vacation and are using the ship as a floating hotel/casino that takes them to places that they think they might be interested in seeing for quick visits. Although as travelers we enjoy a cruise ship’s food, drinks, sunshine, waves, and getting to know the folks working on the ship, we have very little interest in the superficial lectures, Las Vegas style floor shows, or endless games of trivia.

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Another way to posit the difference is to classify cruisers as slow tourists and travelers as paying stowaways, hitching a ride to avoid the trauma of air travel. Slowing down a tour, after all, is the functional equivalent of applying cosmetics to a porcine visage. Whereas transiting great distances in comfort and at a pace that obviates jet lag is the essence of slow travel. Given that an Atlantic crossing is long on travel and short on stopping and shopping, many cruisers tend to get bored and grumpy, while even the crew can get stressed by the unaccustomed length of time at sea without the port calls that provide their only time off. So please keep in mind that some of the comments in this review stem from the fact that we were crossing with cruisers and not fellow travelers.

Why Cruisers and Travelers have Trouble Mixing

Guest demographics on a crossing can be firmly placed in the category of a mixed blessing. Although the cruise was fully booked, as opposed to two-thirds occupancy on the Odyssey in 2012, there were (once again) no children and no teenagers on board (note to Seabourn cruise schedulers: the crossing to Barcelona is popular, so it should become a yearly cruise). While two weeks without infantile meltdowns and adolescent angst is worth the ticket price alone, there are significant opportunity costs for travelers hitching a ride on a transitioning cruise ship.

Let’s talk dress code. Cruisers like to dress up for dinner and other evening activities. They also like to wear expensive bling and brag about their new Bentley, Lamborghini, or [insert hideously expensive internal combustion-driven penile substitute here]. On the other hand, travelers need to make every piece of clothing do quadruple duty over the course of many months. Lugging the minimal sartorial requirements for a cruise adds pounds of single purpose garments to a luggage footprint and can literally constitute the straw that breaks a traveler’s back on a cobblestoned village street with no transport options available for miles.

To be fair, cruise lines have been relaxing their dress codes for years. In fact, many cruisers complain about the dumbing down of their cherished “standards.” However, although I never had to don a tie and Patti got by without a dress aboard the Quest, we still had to bring clothes and shoes that will constitute dead weight for the rest of our three and a half month migration. The Seabourn dress code is identical to that for Crystal ships, but Cunard is far worse, despite the line’s much ballyhooed (and criticized) relaxation of the strictest dress codes in the industry last year.

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Given that we have so little in common with the cruisers, Team Mago inevitably finds itself befriending the crew on a cruise ship as opposed to our fellow guests. This is particularly true of the Seabourn experience, primarily because the crew is so good. We felt that the majority of our shipmates were often rude and impatient with the staff over little or no provocation. They’re on an expensive vacation, after all, and expect perfection from the hotel and its staff. The staff seemed to be in on the game as well, since they quickly determined whom they could be cheeky with and those who required de rigueur sucking up.

Those passengers that we did take a liking to tended to be very dismissive of our cruise companions. One refreshingly self-made petroleum engineer from Canada declared that the majority of guests fell into one of two categories: leaches and skimmers, by which he evidently meant attorneys and bankers. Nice one.

In the end, however, Team Mago was happy to trade an absence of kids and teens for the occasional condescending lecture on why “socialism doesn’t work” delivered by a septuagenarian grande dame barely capable of employing cutlery with her left hand due to the enormous piece of fossilized dinosaur feces attached to one of her digits. So, let’s set sail.

A Less Than Auspicious Beginning

Things, however, got off to a rocky start—at least by the standards we had come to expect from our 2012 crossing on Quest’s sister ship Odyssey. In general, we got the feeling that they were breaking in a lot of new staff. Middle management was professional and competent, but the newbies got very flustered by emergent events like a rainsquall, a surge in orders at breakfast and lunch venues, and in general they did not appear to be adequately cross-trained or able to take the initiative in solving problems. This theme will be repeated throughout this review.

The Suite Life

MagoGuide does not subscribe to the old adage that you only sleep in your cabin/hotel room/rental apartment, and thus its appointments are of tertiary consideration. Look dude, we spend up to half the year away from home, so where we sleep, eat, and work is way important. Seabourn’s veranda suites, while suffering from a bit of terminological hype, compare favorably to both Crystal and Cunard in terms of size and furnishings.

On a Seabourn crossing, one’s stateroom is the only private oasis from the nonstop sybaritic behavior throughout the rest of the ship. MagoGuide is very much into decadence, but sometimes you just want to chill with your sweetie, some cold champagne, unlimited caviar, and a movie you missed back on land. The in-suite movies and other entertainment features on the flat screen beat any other cruise line hands down. Also, unlike Crystal and Cunard, the cabin has a flexible divider so that the male of the species can indulge in binge watching while his mate slumbers blissfully.

Other Seabourn suite discriminators include a very nice walk-in closet, a thoughtfully engineered marble-clad bathroom, and a table/sofa/coffee table set-up that makes in-room dining convenient and pleasurable as well as a decent place to get a little writing done. Speaking of cabin cuisine, room service on Seabourn is spectacular. The 24-hour menu is impressive, but you can also order anything that is being served in the main restaurant during evening dining hours. This is far preferable to actually eating in The Restaurant (see below). One can either arrange for separate delivery of each course or go all-in Mr. Creosote style and basically order everything on the menu at once. Should you exhaust the nominal inclusive stock of two bottles of wine in your room, reinforcements are just a phone call away.

2014-03-22 143529_P1120426A minor quibble: although inclusive Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reverse Particuliere flows like water throughout the ship, it is only delivered by the glass to one’s stateroom, a bottle will cost you. This seems like a rather silly cost cutting measure given the general wastage prevalent on an all inclusive six star cruise ship. I was sorely tempted to challenge this silly policy by ordering champagne by the glass from our stateroom until I reached the satiation point (or could no longer operate the phone, whichever came first) but refrained upon the realization that this would only be punishing the exceptional staff for the sins of the central office bean counters.

One of the service problems associated with shaking down so many novices was lack of attention to detail in our cabin, for which Seabourn is justifiably famous. For example, there were holes worn in my bathrobe. The lovely red rose in our room was left to wilt in an ugly fashion without replacement for several days before our pert and professional steward Liddyanne repurposed the peddles by strewing them on the bed at turn down time (nice touch). In another example, the wrong room number on our laundry bag resulted in a dressing down from a Teutonic matron in the self-service laundry. But most of the issues disappeared in the amount of time it took the staff to learn our names (approximately seventy-two hours, about a day longer than on the Odyssey—more evidence of a surplus of newbies).

Professionalism Where It Really Counts: Passenger Safety

Another discriminator in Seabourn’s favor versus either Crystal or Cunard is safety. Their passenger drills are instructive vice frivolous (Crystal) or excruciating in length with little additional gain in practical informa

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tion (Cunard). More importantly, the Seabourn crew proved adept at handling multiple emergencies. The crossing featured what I assume is a near-unprecedented three medical emergencies. The first required a return to Ft. Lauderdale several hours after we sailed. The second involved a diversion to Nassau the next day. The final medical disembarkation took place smack in the middle of the Straights of Gibraltar and involved an at sea rendezvous with a tug. Very interesting.

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On top of three medical emergencies there was the affair of the burning burgers. While the captain and the bulk of the senior staff were at the twice-delayed welcome aboard ceremony, several burgers were allowed to languish on the grill at poolside until they caught fire. This event triggered the BIG FREAKING DEAL ship’s alarm and the captain had to rush away from the ceremony in mid-toast with most of the ship’s senior officers in his wake. The fire was in fact rapidly extinguished by the cooks before the alarm actually sounded, but sensors installed in the grill hood (the result of a design decision that placed them too close to the cooking surface according to David, the Quest’s Second Officer) went off due to the temperature differential and that got the claxon going.

The captain even laid on additional safety drills for the crew involving two very realistic sequentially escalating scenarios. The bottom line, as far as MagoGuide is concerned, is that given four emergencies the crew of the Quest responded rapidly and efficiently with minimal disruptions to the guests. Writing this review in the immediate aftermath of the Korean ferry disaster and the on-going trial of the Costa Concordia’s captain, MagoGuide is extremely impressed with Seabourn’s safety procedures and personnel.

Finally, while the Quest faced logistical delays at Port Everglades, US health and safety personnel made an unscheduled inspection of the ship and were very favorably impressed with respect to all sanitary aspects of the ship. Again, given frequent outbreaks of food born disease on so many other cruise lines, this constitutes a key discriminator in favor of Seabourn as far as Team Mago is concerned.

The Alpha and Omega of On-Board Dining

Restaurant 2

The standout food venue on the Quest was Restaurant 2, confirming our opinion of this specialty eatery developed aboard Odyssey.

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When we boarded, we were informed that in order to give all guests the opportunity to eat at Restaurant 2, each cabin was limited to one reservation and another evening on a space available waiting list. However, we managed to eat on six occasions in Restaurant 2 and there was space available every night we dined there. It would have been possible to eat there every evening. Since the ship was fully booked, the reservation restrictions were apparently an effort to generate interest rather than ration seats at the venue.

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So the larger question is why Restaurant 2 is so undersubscribed vis-à-vis the other dining options, especially The (main) Restaurant. We spoke with a number of passengers, including a large table of dining companions during a meal in Restaurant 2, and MagoGuide’s take is that Restaurant 2 does not serve familiar cruise ship cuisine. Cruisers would seem to prefer prime rib, rack of lamb, and lobster tail done up in over-the-top continental preparations that would not have seemed out of place in the 1950s. In contrast, Restaurant 2 serves fairly creative modern cuisine in beautiful plating arrangements and in portions that allow you to waddle to the gym the next day before noon.

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The Restaurant 2 staff were also the most fun and competent of all the Quest’s food venues. Our faves were Jonathon (waiter), Alen (assistant sommelier) and Boro (assistant maître de). By our third dinner, it was as if we were regular customers of long standing at a terrestrial eatery.

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On the only night we dined with fellow passengers at Restaurant 2, however, our interlocutors complained about the food in terms of portion size, appearance, and composition, with one of them refusing to try entire courses. Our tablemates even bridled at the suggestion by wait staff that courses were specifically designed to be consumed from left to right. They also were very critical of the staff, accusing three of the funniest guys on the ship of having no sense of humor (translation: guests tell jokes and staff laughs, not the other way around).

The inclusion of an optional wine pairing for additional cost was a change from the Odyssey. I usually view such options as thinly disguised up-selling, but I gave the earnest and energetic Alen a break, tried his pairings, and was glad that I did. I had two pairings for $60 and $70 respectively and they markedly improved my gastronomic experience.

The following is a review of our favorite meal at Restaurant 2.

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We began with the Chef’s Cocktail composed of grilled octopus ceviche, fennel salad, potatoes, fried shallots, and lemon grape juice. Essentially a modern take on Galician style octopus, it was a good starter that needed more octopus and less taters. Patti (a potato maven) declared the spuds superfluous and suggested substituting fried capers to make the dish pop and boost the acidity, which was under-supplied by the lemon juice and red port dressing. The fried shallots added a nice bit of crunchitude to the dish’s texture profile. The Chef’s Cocktail was paired with Perrier Joet Grand Brut: yeasty nose, opening notes of buttered croissant that segued into layered citrus fruit with a super long shortbread finish (how is that for an oenological oxymoron?).

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The tripartite second course consisted of a lobster corn dog with truffle dipping sauce; crisp lamb kofta accompanied by sun dried tomato coulis; and chicken brick (sic, ha!) parcel with a mustard dip. The lobster corn dog could be more correctly characterized as a lobster roll on a stick, which the black truffle dipping sauce took to a whole new level (even Patti liked it, despite extensive and expensive medical testing that has confirmed she lacks the truffle gene). The lamb kofta was a perfect bite, although the coulis was a bit superfluous. Chicken brik was decidedly weak on flavor. A game bird like grouse or quail, or even a more flavorful domestic fowl such as capon, would have been a better choice for this preparation.

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But the best thing by far was the ginger crisp that served as a crunchy palate cleanser. Paper-thin slices of ginger were steeped in sugar syrup and then placed on kitchen parchment under heat lamps for ten minutes. Once we return to Kitchen Stadium Polebridge, Team Mago will attempt to duplicate this process in a low heat convection oven (or aga braising oven) and then serve the crisps with fried zucchini flowers. We’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.

This course was paired with a 2010 Hanzell Sonoma Valley chard. It was the wine of the night. The nose was like a breez wafting off an Amalfi Coast lemon grove. Layered peaches, medlar, and citron peel merged on the palate followed by a buttery forever finish. Alen persuaded me to drink this wine across its temperature profile, and thus save half of it for the Sockeye salmon (see below). He was right; the wine drank better as it warmed up, signs of both a great chard and an astute young sommelier.

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Third courses at Restaurant 2 are always a soup duo with savory petit fours. On this evening, we were treated to a butternut squash presse and foie gras sandwich followed by salsify and apple cappuccino and mushroom crostini. I just love the way Seabourn has pressed the vile French presse into commendable gastronomic service. Team Mago detests the “coffee” produced by this nasty implement modeled on a Medieval torture device, as well as fears the burns that are all too frequent when employing a shoddily-made French presse (that is to say, the vast majority of them). But they make killer soup; the butternut squash version had wonderful cinnamon notes dancing on top of deeply extracted squash essence. The only thing better on the plate was the salsify and apple cappuccino (another thing most guests did not get about Restaurant 2 was its insouciant playfulness evinced in the menu, the service, and the food—poor benighted plutocrats!). The aroma of this frothy soup was a perfect companion to its wonderful flavor.

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Unfortunately, the foie gras torchon was superfluous and the duxelle spread for the mushroom toast was bland. Instead of serving two indifferent offerings, the chef should have stuck with a trio format, interposing a foie gras napoleon between the two superlative soups. Such a gastro-finesse move would have taken the entire course to the next level.

Based on this experience, we are going to equip all MagoGuide kitchens in the future with a French presse reserved exclusively for soups. Another culinary question we hope to explore upon our return to the Big Sky Love Shack is whether one can construct an apple and salsify pie. As soon as I got back to our cabin after this meal, I employed the tortuously slow shipboard internet service to send an e-mail back to Montana requesting that salsify be added to this year’s garden planting.

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The main course was a protein duo composed of roasted Sockeye salmon in sake ginger brine with melted cous cous; and orange soy Burberry duck, artichoke tart tatin, quince puree, and prosciutto sauce. The salmon had a nice Asian glaze but it was a tad overcooked. We eat of lot of Sockeye in the Last Best Place on Earth and you can hardly get it too rare. I was particularly disappointed because the chard had shed its tightly wound opening notes for an unprotected sex and layered fruit experience that would have been superb with correctly cooked Sockeye. The Israeli cous cous risotto, however, was quite good—a nice change from the normally gluey risotto found on almost all cruise ships.

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In contrast to the Sockeye, the duck was perfectly cooked, which made me wonder whether the problem with the salmon was an incorrect calculation by the kitchen as to the effect of carry-over cooking. The quince puree was an unusual and welcome accompaniment to the duck, but all the non-duck components of this dish paled in comparison to the delicious cheesy artichoke tart tatin.

The main course wine pairing failed to live up to expectations. The Louis Jadot 2007 Pommard lacked extraction, delivering diluted cherry fruit with a medium length finish but little grip. The wine did improve as it breathed and could have further profited from decanting, but it was a medium bodied burgundy for all that and out classed by the free New Zealand pinot poured with this meal. Alen should have gone with a big Oregon pinot, which would have stood up to the Sockeye better and complemented the duck to a far greater degree than this over-rated burgundy.

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Two out of the three desserts stood out. Florentine and pumpkin nougatine had nothing to do with Medici-inspired cuisine, but it was excellent pumpkin pie. Banana toffee turned out to be a banana split in a glass, and a damn good one at that. The bourbon ice cream was a bit disappointing in that it did not contain enough bourbon to distinguish it from vanilla ice cream, nor did it contain enough vanilla to make it really good. The dessert wine was a 2007 Vidal Canadian Ice Wine that came across as a ménage a trois consisting of Eiswein, Passito, and Sauternes (think cake icing meets honey meets noble rot). It also had the lovely caramel color of an older Sauternes.

Here are some photos from the other meals that we had at Restaurant 2.

Mago Tip: Not all meals served at Restaurant 2 are created equal. If you want to maximize your enjoyment of their creative cuisine, avoid so-called Signature Nights. These menus are invariably served on formal optional nights and they are closely aligned with the menu served that night in The Restaurant. Much of the innovative tripartite structure of the service is eschewed for single offerings of continental preparations. The food is still far

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superior to that in The Restaurant, but these are two nights you might want to leave both venues to the high rollers (who prefer Restaurant 2 when it serves more cruise-like cuisine) and instead partake of the killer burgers and fries served up in either the Patio Grill or the Colonnade. Team Mago is serious about those burgers and fries by the way, they are absolutely the best to be found at sea.

Two other wines Alen poured as part of the optional pairings at Restaurant 2 dinners that I particularly liked were:

  • Perrier-Jouet Grand Brute Rose: nose of rose petals followed by wild strawberry and nectarine fruit with a very long red berry finish.
  •  2004 Chateau Haut-Batailley (Pauillac)– a left bank bombshell composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet frank, and petite verdot. This baby was all about serious terroir with a nose of mushrooms and damp earth followed by leather, truffles, and ripe black fruit with a very long gamey finish. Good juice dude, goooood juice!!

A final note about the inclusive wines. In general, the whites were quite decent while the reds were not nearly as good, except for the Two Vines Washington cab that came out late in the crossing in the Colonnade.

The Restaurant

In Team Mago’s humble opinion, The Restaurant on Seabourn ships has not escaped the curse of all main restaurants on all cruise ships and should be avoided at all costs, particularly for evening meals. Why the marquee food venue on everything from six star nautical jewel boxes to budget buffet behemoths inevitably serves the worst food, accompanied by a service spectrum somewhere between rude and absent without leave, remains a mystery that MagoGuide has every intention of looking into in future articles. But for the purposes of this review let’s just say that Quest’s Restaurant was noticeably worse than the mediocre experience on the virtually identical Odyssey two years prior.

The best description of the food was high-end institutional with continental pretensions, while service in The Restaurant was confused and inconsistent. Orders were forgotten as well as repeated (in a single sitting!). The whole team seemed rushed and distracted. Service for the deuces in particular was inefficient due to concentration on the big tables. A minority of Seabourn regulars agreed with us that The Restaurant is the worst food venue on the ship, but the majority of guests seem to want to dine frequently in The Restaurant and apparently Seabourn policy is to funnel guests there on formal optional nights by closing the Patio Grill. Service was also initially a problem in the Colonnade and Patio Grill venues, but it got much better by day three and The Restaurant never did.

The Colonnade

The Colonnade was always a good fallback whenever we weren’t eating in Restaurant 2 and the Patio Grill was either closed or the weather didn’t permit.  Dining at the Colonnade in the evening was especially pleasant.  Sitting on the deck outside the Colonnade was also our go to place for breakfast.

The Patio Grill

The Patio Grill also had excellent food and service.  Here are some photos of that venue.

Let’s take it on outside

The Quest, like its sister ship the Odyssey, has some wonderful outdoor areas. One of our favorites is the Patio Grill and the lounging cabanas around the pool. We used the cabanas as semi-private areas where we could prep for our upcoming World War I battlefield tour. That is to say, we drank champagne while reading Barbara Tuchman’s immortal The Guns of August to each other (I know, I know, tough work but someone has to do it).

The pool side bar and the Sky Bar located one level up overlooking the patio area with views out to sea are also very pleasant venues where the conversation seems less stilted and the bar tenders treat everyone like a regular in a local pub. They are also amazingly attentive. I happened to notice that an order of caviar was languishing behind the bar in the mid-Atlantic sun one day and remarked to Patti that it was difficult even in my squiffy state to watch wonderful caviar slowly turn to fish oil. The bartender came over from the far side of the bar and asked me if I wanted the caviar, which had been orphaned by some high roller who could not be bothered to wait the ten minutes it took to reach him at poolside and had decamped for other parts of the ship.

Speaking of caviar, Seabourn claims to serve it in unlimited quantities, and while this claim is technically untrue, it was certainly ubiquitous for the asking during our two weeks aboard the Quest. The best event at poolside is the caviar reception where two stations are set up flanking the Patio Grill and enormous cans of sustainable caviar from Uruguay are served up with all the trimmings. MagoGuide does not believe in junking up good caviar with onions, blinis, boiled eggs, etc. So when asked how I wanted it, I told them that I desired an amount rivaling a good sized cowpat with a mother of pearl spoon. The servers did not even bat an eye. Advantage Seabourn!! Do I need to add that one could bathe in the amount of champagne poured over the next hour?

There was another outside party at the pool where we enjoyed the food as well.  This party included a live band. Here are some photos showing off the fare.

Some outside areas had their problems as well, however. In particular, the deck five Jacuzzi venue was very badly managed. The two big, warm, and bubbly hot tubs were inevitably shut down around 6PM, just when it would have been nice to get in a warm tub and watch the sunset and stars come out. Alcoholic drink and food were also in very short supply in this area. By contrast the hot tubs in the pool area were open into the evening and you could not twitch without being offered food or drink. Guests were clearly discouraged from indulging in the more private and quiet setting on the fantail. What is up with that?

Sunning on the back deck

Service at this location was either non-existent or slip shod throughout the day and evening. For example, the bars were all pouring a wonderful dry French rose, but when I ordered it from a waiter rushing by to his official station inside at the Club Bar, I was served a vile white Zin. He then abandoned me before I could get this wine crime rectified.

More Great Features of the Quest

Other things we really liked about the Quest involved maintenance, the gym and spa, Seabourn Square, and the (unique in our experience) means of dealing with “sea lag.”

With respect to maintenance, if something is broken on a Seabourn ship they fix it, usually within hours, always by the next day. This policy goes for gym equipment, washing machines, light bulbs in your walk-in closet, anything. This is in marked contrast to any other cruise line Team Mago has sailed on where most repairs wait until port.

Speaking of the gym, it is best in show, period. One never has to wait for a machine, no matter the time of day and regardless of whether the ship is full or not. The equipment is a joy to use and the staff expert at any issue or query that may arise. The spa is great too. We had excellent massages during our crossing and were able to book them at very short notice.

Coffee bar as Seabourn Square
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The Seabourn Square is a highly functional and innovative use of shipboard space combining the functions of a library, business center, and customer services with a killer espresso bar. The space comprises both inside and outside seating, to include some amazingly comfortable loungers. The library book collection, while on the smaller side compared to the QM2, is varied and contemporary. In addition to desktop computers and printers, a new IT feature is tablets on which multiple newspapers are down loaded daily. Although the tablets did not seem to help with the speed of the shipboard internet, at least passengers were spared the expense of downloading their news through a soda straw on their devices.

The final thing about Seabourn that we appreciated was their solution to the issue of “sea lag.” At the outset of the voyage, the Quest followed nominal cruise ship procedure involving a spring forward temporal event at midnight every other day to keep up with the time zones we were transiting. This immediately led to complaints because people felt discomfited by the loss of an hour’s sleep every other day as well as the perception that the meals were being served too early before folks were hungry. The complaints led to a very thoughtful change in policy wherein the ship’s clocks were set forward every day at 1400 by one half hour. Although we were initially skeptical about this innovative approach to time management, this expedient maneuver proved to be quite a pleasant way to deal with the issue in a way that guaranteed minimal disruption to guests’ internal clocks.

Final Nit Picks

I want to mention three other problems that persisted throughout our crossing. First, the shipboard internet was slower than in 2012, sometimes nonexistent during the middle of the day, and at least as expensive. Note to Seabourn corporate types: all-inclusive should mean just that. Internet access was a major source of complaints from all of your guests on this voyage, not just MagoGuide working stiffs. And even if you are driven by your stockholders to continue your business model of all-inclusive pricing except for numerous up-selling opportunities, you can at least make the internet hook-up faster and more reliable, which would not only cement loyalty but allow you to raise prices for the service.

Second, enrichment, never a Seabourn strength as compared to Crystal or Cunard, was particularly short and infuriatingly lightweight on this voyage. I did learn from “maritime historian” Graham Anthony (concerning the imprisonment of Allen Turning for being a homosexual) that in 1950s Britain “buggery was, well, buggery back then.” Wow, who knew?

We got so tired of the mediocre and boring lectures that Team Mago decided to throw Team Seabourn a curve ball to see how they would handle an unusual guest request. We went to Seabourn Square and spoke with a very nice young lady, volunteering to give a lecture on travel photography. She was clearly taken aback, but handled our query quite professionally by responding that such issues were in the cruise director’s bailiwick and that we would be contacted personally in a few hours by said director to discuss our request. No such outreach ever occurred, and we did not push the matter since a) the answer was obvious and b) cruise directors are inevitably possessed of a personality type that is intellectual anti-matter to mine and it would have been difficult to endure fifteen minutes of a polite way to say “no way Jose.”

There was one enrichment experience that we thoroughly enjoyed, especially Patti, while docked in Funchal. That was a tour of the bridge conducted by David with a guest appearance by the captain.  They showed off the equipment used to navigate and pilot the ship, told bridge stories, and answered all of our questions.  If you have a chance to visit a bridge on one of these ships, don’t miss it.

How does the Seabourn stack up?

Subsequent to this update, MagoGuide will post a comparison of Seabourn and Crystal ships with Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 that is long overdue. We will also add a freighter crossing scheduled for June 2014 to the mix. At this stage, however, we feel confidant in issuing a preliminary ranking of:

  1. Seabourn: best in terms of crew-to-passenger ratio, staff professionalism, ship appointments, and cabin size.
  2. Crystal: best in terms of food, wine, and enrichment, but their older, larger ships and smaller cabins detract from their strengths.
  3. Cunard: hummm, well it has a nice promenade deck, but the overall experience is just too much like traveling on a huge slow airplane where you have to dress up to eat mediocre food.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/magoguide) for updates on our cruise reviews as well as the rest of our adventures.



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Morgan Hart

MagoGuide.com was launched in 2011 as a website and virtual storefront to showcase Patti's software and Morgan's content. Dedicated to slow travel, culinary excess, and ripping good yarns, MagoGuide is the digital scriptoria for the Mago Scrolls, Morgan's historical fiction series about the Punic Wars in general and one Mago of Syracuse in particular. Although Morgan has written a great deal of non-fiction over the years in the form of specialized journal articles, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and (his personal favorite) the most unpopular coffee table book in the history of the planet, he always viewed himself as a happily frustrated novelist. Get more information about Morgan's novel and travel writing at our Products page.

6 thoughts on “Seabourn Quest: Crossing with Cruisers

  1. Well, in general very accurate, was passanger in the Seaburn Quest April of this year, from Athens, across the Mediterranean, finished 12 days later in Barcelona.
    Not a single problem, crew was always friendly and helpful, food fearly decent, in general a very pleasant time.
    I do agree with your comment about the on board lectures, attended one and after that decided to make better use of my time.

    Gonzalo

    1. Gonzalo… we love hearing from a fellow ship lover. And Seabourn is one of our favorites. I’m glad that you had a similar pleasant experience on the Seabourn Quest. Let us know of any other ship travel that you’ve especially enjoyed.

  2. We got the following from Jerry K. through our contacts page… I also want to tell you that I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from reading your cruise reviews. And frankly, I have never read any review of a product or service that was as detailed, thoughtful and objective as yours. Simply great work!

    Thanks, Jerry. We love hearing from our adoring fans.

  3. An excellent report and humorous made even more interesting because we were on the same cruise. I particularly enjoyed, “the Chef’s Cocktail was paired with Perrier Joet Grand Brut: yeasty nose, opening notes of buttered croissant that segued into layered citrus fruit with a super long shortbread finish (how is that for an oenological oxymoron?”. Overall it was an excellent cruise and as you say the staff were the best of any cruise we have been on. Just booked the same cruise again for 2017 and hopefully they have made some improvement to the food in the Restaurant. .
    Thanks for the memories.

    1. Wow! On the same cruise. Thanks for the kind words. We’re taking the Oceania Riviera this year in November from Barcelona to Miami. Check back in December for a writeup of that adventure. And please help spread the word about MagoGuide!

    2. Thank you so much for your kind words about MagoGuide’s review of the Seabourn Odyssey. We will be reprising our take on the Queen Mary II for the nth time in July (I know, doing the same thing and expecting different results is a good working definition of insanity, but doing the same thing and expecting the same results is the craft of cruise ship reviews). In November we will have our first crack at a 5.5 star ship in the form of Oceania Cruises’ Riviera. I can already tell you that Oceania has the most obnoxious e-mail upselling and cross-marketing in the industry as far as Team Mago is concerned. Another aspect of that cruise about which we are decidedly ambivalent is the number of port calls in Spain (2), Azores, Bermuda, and the Bahamas—making it more of a progressive cruise than a real crossing. MagoGuide will be critiquing both these voyages in situ/ real time, and you are cordially invited to partake and comment. Enjoy your 2017 sojourn with Seabourn and please let us know if their standards have changed in either direction.

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