During my first lunch on the brand-new Seabourn Ovation, I mentioned to my waiter, Miguel, that I was avoiding the beet salad because it contained cheese. Five minutes later, he brought me a bowl of beets, sans cheese—without being asked.
Mind you, this was a shakedown cruise; a preview sail for travel partners and media that departed from the shipyard in Genoa, Italy for a week of testing all the bells and whistles on the ultra-luxury ship before its inaugural voyage from Venice to Barcelona in early May. Yet all of the touch-points during my week on board reflected a level of personalized yet unpretentious service that Seabourn president Richard D. Meadows calls out as the biggest differential on every Seabourn ship. “The staff,” he says, “is almost clairvoyant when it comes to anticipating the needs of the guests.”
Ultra-Luxury Resort at Sea
Embarking onto the Ovation for the first time felt like I was entering a refined and exceedingly beautiful luxury yacht. The Atrium, a curved, centrally located staircase masterfully designed by Adam Tihany with polished mahogany handrails and vivid blue carpeting, defines the flow and gives star power to everyone on the stairs. The standard Veranda Suite took my breath away: A walk-in closet! Marble bathroom with full-sized bathtub and separate shower! Large, visually private verandah! With 300 suites (all with verandahs) and 12 decks, the Ovation is fifth in the fleet and a sister ship to the Encore, which launched in March 2016. Passengers who have previously sailed on any of the ships will find the overall floor plan to be familiar.
“Everything we do is fleetwide,” notes Chris Austin, Seabourn’s sr. v.p., global sales & marketing. “Consistency across the fleet is a key focus and differentiator.” This means that repeat guests know what to expect on every level, from the signature-scent Molton Brown bathroom amenities to Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller’s cuisine—and this consistency is a key selling point for the Ovation. “The Seabourn client is very loyal to the brand,” says Wendy Romanow, director, cruise sales, Virtuoso. As for the service, “what makes Seabourn different is that they encourage staff to be themselves—so you’ll have a laugh with one, a touching moment with another.”
Younger travelers are sailing the Ovation’s shorter itineraries to the Mediterranean and northern Europe this summer, adds Annie Scrivanich, sr. v.p., Cruise Specialists.
“Most of our Seabourn clients are between 68 and 78 years old and have been on 10 or more cruises. But we’ve been booking younger guests in their 50s and 60s on the Ovation. I think some of this has to do with the 7- to 10-day sailings.”
The Ovation Experience
During my week on the Ovation, I learned first-hand that Seabourn’s exclusive celebrity partnerships go beyond name affiliation to give passengers authentic experiences. For clients new to cruising, it all adds up to a compelling story, says Austin. “My advice to travel professionals who are trying to convince luxury land lovers to take their first cruise is to sell to their clients’ passion points before even mentioning the ship,” he advises. “Talk about the culinary offerings, including The Grill by Thomas Keller, Dr. Andrew Weil’s spa and wellness offerings, even the design of the interiors that rival any land-based luxury resort or hotel.”
While the ship is decidedly elegant, I found many aspects of the Ovation experience to have a modern sensibility. Think onboard coffee roaster, a fun (and delicious) sushi restaurant, homemade gelato, and a new alfresco dining concept called Earth & Ocean serving Moroccan tagines and other international fare poolside. Among a wide choice of spots to hang and unwind, I especially liked the luxe cabana apartment on the 12th floor Retreat (a passenger upsell) for a romantic interlude, and the expanded lounge area at The Grill for socializing.
Adding the Ovation to the fleet also gives Seabourn “extraordinary destination opportunities,” notes Meadows, with a total of 470 ports of call in more than 100 countries this year. “I love it that they’re going to places I’ve never been,” says Valerie Wilson, CEO, Valerie Wilson Travel, and a frequent vacationer on Seabourn since its inception more than 30 years ago.
Seabourn has a unique alliance with UNESCO that promises deep dives into significant World Heritage sites, including sustainable tourism activities and special guest lecturers on board.
Those Seabourn Moments
Everyone I spoke with on board the Ovation experienced “Seabourn Moments”—those memories that define the brand. Among mine were customized stretching and yoga sessions with fitness instructors Kyle and David. Wilson had a special moment on the Ovation as soon as she stepped inside her suite and connected with her Portuguese stewardess Ana Louisa, who revealed that she will also be Wilson’s stewardess when she returns to the ship for a vacation this summer, departing from Lisbon. For Virtuoso’s Romanow, sitting in the Observation Lounge with her husband and asking for a “caviar moment” that was delivered 15 minutes later was extraordinary. If God is in the details, Seabourn has it wrapped.