With each Cruise Adviser guide we take an in-depth look at a particular cruise line. This time it’s the turn of Seabourn, a standard-bearer in ultra luxury. Sam Ballard provides a brief history of the company, while Lynn Narraway, managing director for the UK, tells us what sets Seabourn apart.
How do you define luxury? Service? Cuisine? Or getting behind that exclusive velvet rope? For the founders of Seabourn, back in 1986, it was about bringing the seemingly unattainable lifestyle of the world’s ultra-rich into the realm of the wealthy. Specifically, by making it possible to feel like a cruise was the same as taking a holiday on a private mega yacht.
It’s important to note that within the ultra-luxury cruise segment, this was groundbreaking stuff. Crystal Cruises was not founded until two years later, in 1988, Regent Seven Seas in 1990 and Silversea in 1994. The now defunct Royal Viking Line, founded by the late Warren Titus in 1972, is perhaps the best example of a precursor to the ultra-luxury market. The line specialised in longer voyages to exotic destinations, but was not comparable to the modern luxury lines of today.
Titus went on to found Seabourn with Atle Brynestad, who later founded SeaDream Yacht Club. The new company launched the Seabourn Pride in 1988, capable of holding 208 passengers, the ship was able to access smaller ports as well as larger harbours. Seabourn never considered guests as passengers, instead they were seen as “members of a select seagoing society”. Thus, it was judged to be imperative that, once the guest was on the ship, they weren’t being asked to keep putting their hand in the pocket. Everything must be included in the price, dining and all alcohol must never cost more and there should even be a fully-stocked bar in each suite. Everyone on board would have an experience virtually indistinguishable from a trip on a private yacht, without having to stump up millions on seafaring hardware.
The next year saw the company add a second ship, the Seabourn Spirit, in 1989, before Carnival purchased a 25 per cent stake in 1991. It took its stake up to 50 per cent in 1996, allowing Seabourn to buy the Seabourn Legend. Carnival took over the remaining 50 per cent in 1998, about the same time it bought Cunard and transferred over the company’s Royal Viking Sun and Goddess I and II.
The three new additions to Seabourn’s fleet were also the most short-lived. Atle Brynestad bought the two Goddesses in order to start SeaDream Yacht Club and the Sun moved to Holland America Line to become the Prinsendam.
The company continued to grow its presence in the ultra-luxury market with the Pride, Spirit and Legend until it announced the launch of its Odyssey-class in 2009. The vessel, the first of three ships, was the first new ship for Seabourn in more than a decade and it changed everything.
Bigger, better and updated, the Odyssey-class vessels hold a maximum of 450 passengers across 32,346 gross tonnes of hardware. To put that into context, the Legend came in at just under 10,000 gross tones, while the Goddess ships came in at under 5,000 gross tonnes.
How would Seabourn maintain the feel of a luxury private yacht now that its ships had more than doubled in size? To compound the problem, the line announced a deal with Windstar in which it would sell off its three small ships leaving it with the three Odyssey vessels (Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest). At the same time Seabourn revealed that it would be building its biggest ships ever, starting with Encore (due to launch in November), capable of holding 604 passengers. Ovation will follow in 2018.
The answer to the above question is that, while still rooted in tradition, Encore and Ovation will be bastions of a different type of cruising to the Legend, Spirit and Pride. The dynamics of catering for 600 passengers are different to those needed to cater for 200. The ships are much bigger and a certain level of intimacy is bound to be lost.
However, there are elements of Seabourn circa 1986 that will still be strongly evident in 2016 and beyond: guests are still part of a seafaring society; everything (apart from the casino and spa) is included and the onboard choice is far greater; and, most importantly, while Encore is four times bigger than the Legend, there will only be three times as many guests. This means more space per person; the definition of luxury in the upper echelons of the cruise market.
That, along with the work of renowned ship designer Adam D Tihany, means that Seabourn may not be like a luxury yacht any more, but it is something far better: one of the most luxury holidays available anywhere, land or sea.