Cruises get a bad rap. They endure a litany of complaints, from impersonal service to terrible food. Despite the grumblings, a luxurious voyage on the seas is very much possible — the key is choosing the right ship for your needs.
Forbes Travel Guide set sail on the Seabourn Odyssey and found a cruise that will appeal to even the most jaded seafarers. See how this ship avoids common pitfalls and even will make cruisers out of people who hate cruising.
Cruise Complaint: The Food Is Bad
One of the reasons you need to book a trip on Seabourn is its food. Cruises are synonymous with unappetizing, picked-over buffets, but the only all-you-can-eat spread aboard the Odyssey is a well-curated continental breakfast that’s a supplement to made-to-order waffles and omelets.
If you can’t snag a reservation at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The French Laundry, the Odyssey gives you the opportunity to indulge in master chef Thomas Keller’s exquisite cuisine at The Grill.
The classic menu is similar to his restaurants at Miami’s Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club (The Surf Club Restaurant) and New York City’s new Hudson Yards neighborhood (TAK Room). But it feels more appropriate here, where the reservations-only, fine-dining restaurant resembles a refined 1950s train car and fits in with Seabourn’s classic elegance. It’s the sort of place where a white-jacketed waiter whips up your Caesar salad tableside.
Among the tastiest entrées, it’s a toss-up between the indulgent lobster thermidor and the juicy New York strip steak, so order both and share. Load up on sides like a creamy mac and cheese, crème fraîche whipped potatoes and glazed sweet carrots with citrus butter.
Be sure to save room for dessert: Keller’s signature seven-layer coconut cake alternates sponge and Bavarian cream, with meringue sealing it all together and a generous dusting of toasted coconut flakes on top. It’s a light but thoroughly satisfying capper. The best part is that dinner at The Grill is included in your trip, a rarity among cruises, which upcharge for specialty dining (though this would be worth the extra fees).
Traces of Keller’s culinary magic can be found elsewhere in the ship. The casual, alfresco Patio carries an applewood-smoked Yountwurst (named after Yountville — the town that’s home to most of Keller’s restaurants — it’s a hot dog with garden chow chow) and a Napa burger, both on potato buns. The Restaurant, the ship’s formal dinner venue, has its own menu but adds a selection of dishes inspired by Keller’s childhood favorites, like ricotta and Parmesan gnudi with fennel bulb compote and king salmon fillet accompanied by creamed spinach and golden beet chutney.
You’ll also encounter some treats in your room, where turndown service includes Keller’s artisan K+M Chocolate in flavors like smoked chili and hazelnut. He swaps olive oil for cocoa butter to give the squares a silky texture and an extra boost of antioxidants.
Even when Keller is not at the helm, Seabourn impresses with simple events like a barbecue. We went ashore to Carambola Beach Club in St. Kitts, where we were greeted with steel-pan drummers banging out Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” A sizable tent shaded white-cloth-clad tables and a buffet that went beyond your typical backyard cookout fare with lobster tails; gooey, addictive caramel cookies; and endless champagne. But the culinary pièce de résistance took place in the water. Cruise staff stood among the waves propped against a surfboard and doled out more than three pounds of caviar to guests.
We will let you in on a secret: Although it’s not on the menu, caviar is available around the clock on the ship. In-the-know guests even order it for breakfast at The Colonnade.
Cruise Complaint: There Are Too Many People
It’s easy to feel lost in the herd when a ship is carrying thousands of travelers. But the Odyssey maxes out at 450 passengers, affording more intimacy. During the trip, you will start to recognize your fellow cruisers — the same faces will appear at breakfast, the pool and Seabourn Square, the ship’s roomy social hub.
The vessel’s smaller size especially will be apparent when you venture off for excursions. Unlike large boats, the process of gathering and marching to the tender is quick and seamless. There’s virtually no wait in line — you can jump onto the tender and head ashore for adventures in just minutes.
Another big benefit to the smaller passenger load is that the crew can better serve guests. We witnessed it in ways small — the waiter remembering our morning order of Earl Grey tea — and big — staff members carried an 89-year-old New Yorker out of her wheelchair into the surf in St. Kitts, the first time she’d been in the water for many years.
Cruise Complaint: The Excursions Fall Flat
It’s jarring to go from a luxurious cruise to a lackluster excursion. When you pay for a great-sounding trip and instead find yourself in poorly executed activity, it’s enough to make you want to stay on board.
During our Caribbean jaunt, we went on some excellent outings. We plummeted to the bottom of the sea at St. Lucia’s Pigeon Island with SeaTrek helmets that look like they belong on astronauts. The large headgear rests on your shoulders and enables you to safely dive without needing scuba certification. After donning the helmet and the provided water shoes, we descended to the ocean floor for a guided walk with Sea Adventures, exploring the underwater installations (props like tables and empty wine bottles create artificial reefs) and marine life. It’s novel, easy and a blast.
On another excursion, we stopped in charming Terre-de-Haut on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to sample rum and chocolate. At Le Comptoir du Nouveau Monde, the proprietors explained that the local rum comes from sugarcane juice (labeled rhum agricole). The result is a less sweet, more nuanced flavor than your run-of-the-mill molasses-based rum. A Guadeloupe rum flight featured a four-year-old Reimonenq, a special reserve Karukera and an eight-year-old Père Labat. The owners also poured us a bonus taste of Longueteau XO, a combination of 9- to 12-year-old rums aged in oak barrels that once held cognac.
Our favorite detour was to Mustique, a private island that’s part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The secluded paradise’s mix of luxury, casual beach vibe and a lack of tourists (there are only two hotels on the island) prompted Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger to buy homes there. During her heyday when she wanted to escape prying eyes, Princess Margaret let loose in Mustique, and now it’s a vacation spot for Prince William and Kate Middleton.
We plunged into the enticing warm waters of Britannia Bay and not far from the sand, we excitedly stumbled upon a half-dozen large turtles. The crystal-clear water allowed us to watch them glide by from a safe distance.
Although we could have spent the entire time in the sea, we did some exploring on land. Perched cliffside, The View Restaurant & Bar lives up to its name, overlooking the aquamarine waters and palm-fringed beaches. We soaked up the vistas with a Hairoun, a lager made in St. Vincent’s.
However, the see-and-be-seen drinking spot is Basil’s Bar. The beach-chic, on-the-water bar designed by Philippe Starck has drawn celebrities since Princess Margaret’s time. Sip a rum punch, gaze at the water from a bar chair fronting the sea, seek shade in the room adorned with straw hats or sway to Bob Marley on the dance floor.
Cruise Complaint: The Cabins Are Unremarkable
On the Odyssey, each of the 229 cabins is a suite. Accommodations range from the 295-square-foot Ocean View Suite to the 593-square-foot Owner’s Suite (which also boasts an expansive wraparound veranda). Infused with white, brown and beige, all come with a walk-in closet, a bed so plush and high you feel like you may need to pole vault onto it, a living/dining area adorned with a fresh bouquet and champagne on ice waiting to celebrate the start of your journey. Our Veranda Suite also featured a teak deck with loungers.
The spacious, white-granite-walled bathroom is a highlight; it’s more akin to one you’d find in a luxury hotel. There’s a separate tub and shower, a double brown marble sink, custom Molton Brown toiletries in refreshing herbal scents like basil and vetiver (plus extras like Heavenly Gingerlily body scrub). Your attendant will come by the suite with a special soap amenity: a tray of selections from Salvatore Ferragamo, Hermès, L’Occitane and Sea Loofa (an exfoliating bar with bits of seaweed from the coast of Brittany, France).