Earlier this year, we sailed on the Seabourn Encore, the new all-suite ship that launched last December. Here’s our report.
Favorite Haunts: Seabourn Square has it all — from computer stations to a barista counter, from delicious pastries in the morning and fresh sandwiches in the afternoon to an all-day supply of gelati. This is a spectacular living room of sorts; there’s comfortable seating with books to peruse and guest services is just nearby, ready to make any last-minute whim happen on land or sea (or to simply confirm your transfers to your hotel upon disembarkation). This is where the ship’s designer, Adam Tihany, shows off his designer skills — Seabourn Square is an open space that’s sleekly elegant and cozy all at once.
Insider Tip: The aft verandah off Seabourn Square is a quiet haven where you can snuggle up with a blanket and a cappuccino and ponder The New York Times crossword puzzle or simply watch the ocean. For another hidden getaway, check out the smaller pool on Deck 5; it’s just outside The Club.
Subtle Secret: Go to the Observation Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail and request some caviar to go with it. In minutes, you’ll have the full treatment on ice (mother of pearl caviar spoon included), complete with the trimmings of egg yolk, chopped onion, chives and toast points.
Valmagne Abbey opened to visitors in 1975, but it’s been around since 1139. Its vineyard dates back to the 12th century.
Dining: The Grill by Thomas Keller is a standout and we tried to go back as much as possible, either by securing a reservation outright or getting on a waiting list. What we loved: The setting is old school in the best way and the vibe is that of a bespoke dining venue you’d visit to celebrate only the best occasions in life. The attentive service and subtle — classic décor plays in to this, and then there’s the actual food.
We ordered the “Super-Chilled Iceberg Lettuce Salad” with bacon and Maytag Blue Cheese Dressing every other visit, alternating it with the Caesar Salad, which is prepared table-side. The Dover Sole Meuniere (deboned table-side as well) is an outstanding entrée; other classic options included Lobster Thermidor and New York Strip Steak. For dessert, the “Seven Layer Coconut Cake” caught our eye, but in such a cultivated setting we typically opted for a simple, house-made vanilla ice cream.
Seabourn Square is a lovely gathering space on the Seabourn Encore.
More Dining: We are also big fans of “The Restaurant,” which is the ship’s traditional dining venue. The service was attentive and the dishes we fondly remember comprise a first course of “Osetra Malossol Caviar” (Seabourn is reportedly the largest purveyor of caviar in the world), a main course of “Black Truffle Risotto” and the “Grand Marnier Soufflé.” The soufflés in The Restaurant should be looked upon as a treasured opportunity and you’re heartily encouraged to order one at every opportunity, perhaps with some Disaronno or Grand Marnier.
Accommodations: All suites on the Encore come with verandahs, and for entertainment, there are hundreds of on-demand movies and songs available on a flat-screen interactive TV. Walk-in closets and bathrooms with a separate shower and tub make the space extremely functional and comfortable.
When dining on Seabourn, don’t ever pass up the chance to enjoy a soufflé dessert. (Photo by Ruthanne Terrero)
The Spa: Seabourn Encore is the first ship to partner with Dr. Andrew Weil and so the spa, salon and fitness facilities are extensive. Dr. Weil’s presence is felt onboard with programming such as seminars on “Powerful Posture” and “The Healing Power of Sleep.”
Shore Excursions: We noted a theme on this particular cruise, and perhaps it was just the part of the world we were in, but nearly each port offered a winery experience, and there were others that offered the chance to go kayaking, hiking or biking. These were on top of experiences unique to the destination, such as visits to markets, notable architecture and cathedrals.
The Retreat on Seabourn Encore has 15 private cabanas designed as individual luxury living rooms which can be rented out by guests.
“We do try to focus on making sure that the cruise, in a given region, is capturing the elements of the destination in our tour programs,” says Linda Huston, director of Seabourn Shore Excursions. “We also want to make sure that we have active options in most ports that we visit as our guests do want to experience more than a coach tour more than ever now.” She referenced the Ventures by Seabourn program, as well, which on select voyages provides guests with a team of experts who provide insights on the destinations. For these experiences, guests set sail from the ship’s marinas on Zodiacs or sea kayaks to get up close with what’s in port.
Of course, you can mix and match your excursions as you please, however, we found that somehow all of our land trips ended up being to local wineries, and oh, what trips they were. These stood out from many of the wine-tasting expeditions we’ve taken on competing cruise lines. The winery visits were extensive in that the tours were very interesting, the guides were just great and seemed to be very service oriented, ensuring everyone had a very positive experience.
Valmagne abbaye was once one of the richest abbeys in the south of France. The last monks fled during the French Revolution.
In Mallorca, for example, at the end of the winery tour we went into a big, comfortable room where they gave everyone generous pours of each wine, and to go with the tasting was a huge spread of food that included olives, spreads, breads and cheeses.
“Part of the vetting process is to review the proposed wineries via websites, pictures, etc., and we usually require that our operators have experienced the venue for themselves,” says Huston. “Seabourn tour operators are selected for their expertise in the port that we are visiting for this very reason.” She also said that product manager teams work closely with all the tour operators to understand the importance of having the shore-side experience to be as close to the ship experience as possible. “Seabourn guests have higher expectations and we need to make sure our tour partners source out venues, like the wineries in this case, that will deliver a great experience,” she adds.
Sète, France has the Canal du Midi running right through the city. It’s a wonderfully authentic place for seafood of all sorts.
In Mallorca, we drove to Els Calderers de Sant Joan, a manor in the central valley, and sampled some of the local wine served in the 200-year-old estate’s gift shop. We sat at a rustic picnic table and tasted the white wine, which we’d bought for just 3 euros a glass. It was 11 in the morning and it was cold and good. Next, we headed to the Macia Batle Cellars, right in the heart of the wine region, where we enjoyed a lovely tour of the facilities and the tasting described above. Best part? The wine in the gift shop was affordably priced and we were able to purchase several bottles.
In Menorca, we opted to walk around Ciutadella, the old capital of the island, which has a very pretty port and a lovely old quarter filled with shops and cafés. We sat for an hour sipping coffee and watching locals and expats walk by. Be sure to purchase a pair of traditional and comfortable avarcas (Menorcan sandals), which are worn by men and women alike. We got ours at Nagore Menorca. Note: They also carry larger sizes, which is not always the case in Europe.
Montpelier in southwest France has a rugged and beautiful wild terrain dotted with vineyards for miles and miles. (Photos by Ruthanne Terrero)
St. Tropez needs no planned activity as simply walking up and down the chic streets and stopping for a bite in a café can fill an entire day. Our favorite spot in this town is the Annonciade Museum, a gem in the heart of town that houses masterpieces by Matisse, Bonnard, Braque, Seurat and Dufy. Note: It’s closed on Mondays and between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on other days. It’s also closed in November so plan accordingly.
For our St. Tropez sojourn, we chose Seabourn’s “Wine Tasting and Provencal Hilltop Village” excursion in the village of Gassin, a quiet, charming, and oh-so-chic provencal retreat that has a group of lovely inns and restaurants at the top of a hill. It was early, so we opted for a cappuccino and a “petite galette” in a café and blended in like a local. Had it been later, we’d have opted for a bottle of Minuty Rose made at the nearby Château Minuty. Why? Because we had heard on the Encore from our fellow oenophiles that Minuty is the best rose in the world. Alas, we had to leave without a sample but we were very happy to instead visit Bertaud Belieu, a family-run winery, which makes an excellent rose as well and is set on a most scenic stretch of land.
At Abbaye Valmagne, the current Gothic church was converted into a wine storehouse after the French Revolution to prevent it from being turned into a stone quarry, like many other abbeys. (Photo by Ruthanne Terrero)
Provence has a natural, rustic but controlled aesthetic, which we realized all too well when we arrived the next day in Sète in the Montpelier region. The first thing that struck us at Sète, a somewhat rugged and authentic city, was the smell of fish and cigarettes and on this brusque, windy day, it smelled glorious. On our way in to town, we said hello to two cats sleeping on well-used fishing nets and then walked up a hill to the Canal du Midi, the waterway that runs right through the city and all the way up to Toulouse, and earns Sète the moniker of the “Little Venice of Languedoc.” Shops and cafés line the canal, a very active, working waterway that includes a variety of excursion boats and other vessels. This is the place to enjoy seafood, as Sète has the largest fishing fleet on France’s Mediterranean Coast.
In Gassin, we visited the Bertaud Belieu winery, where we enjoyed its excellent rose wine. (Photo by Ruthanne Terrero)
That day, we took the opportunity to visit Abbaye de Valmagne, founded in 1139. Among its buildings is a Gothic-style church and a cloister, filled with Tuscan-inspired gardens. Set amongst vineyards, the abbey also has a winery, and all wines can be tasted and purchased at the cellar, where we enjoyed a pleasant educational course on the offerings.
If you have time, you can dine at the Abbey’s Ferme Auberge, where the menu serves up produce from its vegetable garden and neighboring farms.
Seabourn Encore‘s pool deck is a major hub of activity. Here, sunbathers are provided with attentive service by the ship’s crew.
Unfortunately, we had to disembark before the end of the cruise, which continued on through Italy and ended in Rome.
The big news for Seabourn is that Chris Austin, formerly with Starwood, joined as SVP of global sales and marketing. Beloved in the travel advisor industry for his innovative ways of engaging with the community, Austin has already been making inroads with advisors.