Q – We received a mailing form Seabourn saying they are going to be building two new ships. Meanwhile, we’ve been looking at a cruise we really like on the Quest for next summer in the Baltic. We can wait a year or two if the new ships will be really special. We’ve tried Regent and Crystal and have become loyal Seabourn fans. How much of an up-grade will these new ships be? We’re certainly willing to wait.
A – Seabourn, more than any other luxury cruise line, seems to know exactly who it is and what it wants to be. The sale of its three 10,000 GRT baby white ships to Windstar, began a new era for the company. There is a great consistency in the three 450-Guest sisters Seabourn has launched in recent years. The Odyssey, the Sojourn, and the Quest are considered to be extremely well-designed vessels that maintain the line’s characteristic yacht-like feel while providing spacious creature comforts. Seabourn also seems to have hit the sweet spot in terms of profitability and intimacy – a difficult challenge for any small ship line. Finally, Seabourn guests seem to feel comfortable with the line’s easing up on some of its earlier formality in the dining room. Service is still among the best at sea and there is no evidence, based on our inspections, that corners are being cut in either food or entertainment.
Our personal observation is that a 450 guest ship allows guests to run into newly-acquired friends without feeling hemmed in by too small a circle of fellow cruisers. This is, of course, a personal thing, but, again, Seabourn seems to have hit the sweet spot.
So Seabourn was open to criticism when it announced that its two new ships, the Encore and the Ovation will be 8,000 GRT larger than their current vessels and carry 600 guests. The two ships will launch in the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2018.
This new tonnage is based on the principle that Seabourn can still maintain its small ship feel and current service levels with more space and an increase of only 142 guests. There will likely be at least one additional dining venue and some creative use of public space but we see no reason to delay your cruise. This entire build project is based on Seabourn’s philosophy that they got it right with the Odyssey class vessels and when their past guests board the new vessels they will want to see more of the same. Given the stability and lower pricing we are seeing from the European yards, the luxury sector is building new ships. But you will notice that, in virtually every case, long-term viability is based on getting guest capacity up, as even a little bit can make a huge difference to the bottom line.