It has been at least five or six years since I experienced an ocean cruise. Between COVID shutdowns and my new love of river cruises, I just hadn’t been tempted to get back out onto the ocean in a big ship with tons of people. To be honest, I’m still not that eager to sail away with thousands of my closest friends. But, I recently tried another ocean cruise, and it was FABULOUS.
As a top-selling advisor, I was fortunate enough to earn a Caribbean cruise on the Seabourn Ovation. The Ovation is a 690-foot, 300-suite, luxury cruise ship and we sailed from Barbados to St Maarten in March. It was my first experience on Seabourn and my first luxury cruise. I was really interested in seeing how it would be different from the other cruises I’ve taken on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Princess, and Holland America.
Not surprisingly, I loved it. It was probably the most relaxing vacation that I’ve ever taken. I’m already trying to figure out how to fit another Seabourn cruise into this year’s plans. But for anyone who is wondering “what’s the big deal” about a luxury cruise, and how is it really different from a more mass-market experience, I thought I would share my thoughts about some of the key differences:
The Ovation is about half the size of the modern mega-ships from Royal Caribbean and NCL. So it can visit islands that the big ships can’t.
Our itinerary included St Vincent and the Grenadines, Nevis, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and other ports that you could never see from a big ship. We were typically the only cruise ship in port, and everything else in the harbor was private yachts.
The small size also means that you are never far from the restaurants, the pool, the theater, or anyplace else on the ship. The passenger decks are one hallway with balcony suites lining both sides (no inside cabins). Plus, there are no long walks back to the cabin to retrieve a forgotten item.
And the smaller number of passengers means that you’re never in line. We did not have to worry about making restaurant reservations, or whether we’d get into a show. There was no long wait to board the ship or get onto a tender.
With under 600 passengers and roughly 330 crew, the Ovation has an average passenger-to-crew ratio of about 1.6 to 1. Compare that with the mega ships, which can be twice that (3.2 to 1), and you can imagine how much more personal attention each passenger gets. Crew members greeted us by name in the hallways, and remembered our drink orders. We never felt like an anonymous face in the crowd.
They also did a really good job of noticing things (and acting on them). The first couple of times that we took a shower in our cabin, we moved the bathmat from in front of the sink to in front of the shower so that we would not slip when we stepped out. The steward noticed that and a second bathmat appeared overnight. The older couple at the table next to us in the sushi restaurant was struggling to use the Seabourn app on their phone. They mentioned to the waitress that they missed having a paper newsletter placed in their cabin each evening (rather than having to look at the daily schedules on their phones). The waitress asked for their cabin number and promised that a paper newsletter would be there for them every day moving forward.
Luxury Crusie Inclusions
On Seabourn, your luxury cruise fare includes all your dining (even in the specialty restaurant). And all your drinks (aside from specialty wines by the bottle), and gratuities. Even a stocked minibar in the room (customized to your preferences). All the little things that would normally be charged to your onboard account (from lattes and cappuccinos to room service, or a bottle of champagne to enjoy on the balcony) were included in the fare. Some luxury cruise lines, like Regent, even include all of your shore excursions. It was very nice to check out at the end of the cruise without any onboard charges to pay!
This is definitely a matter of personal preference, but I loved the overall vibe on the ship. It was very adult-oriented and upscale.
The sail-away party was free-flowing champagne and singers serenading us with music from Les Miserables (not a steel drum band or a neon-colored “drink of the day” in sight). There was afternoon tea every day in the main lounge, with live piano music. And they surprised everyone with “caviar in the surf” during our beach barbecue in St Kitts.
For those who love splashier entertainment, the smaller luxury cruises may be a bit boring. While I did see a few people in the very small casino, and we did attend some shows at night, there was honestly not a lot to keep the night owls entertained.
Luxury Cruise Conclusions
My overall takeaway was that there’s a time and a place for both mass-market and luxury cruises. If I were sailing with kids or grandkids and wanted a bigger, more active ship with lots of “bells and whistles”, I would probably go back to Norwegian. And I would just book myself into The Haven to get the upscale ship-within-a-ship experience.
For an adult vacation, with my husband, I would be hard-pressed to think of anything more relaxing than what I just experienced with Seabourn.