And I'm a cruise editor!
A few years before I found a way to turn my love of travel into a full-fledged career as a travel writer and editor, I backpacked around South America for a year. After making it to the Galapagos, I secured a spot on a budget cruise ship, as I’d heard it was the best way to see the islands. I hardly minded sharing a cabin with an aloof British man or pretending like the tiny trickle of water in our shower served a purpose; the food was phenomenal, and the daily snorkeling one of the best experiences of my entire life.
I didn’t think much about cruise travel until I started work on a large cruise reviews project for this very site (which unveils next year). I’d done a few day visits on ships docked in New York’s harbor while I was on assignment for CNN Travel; those had given me a taste of cruise life, and I didn’t feel especially compelled to explore it further.
That is, until I was elbows deep in cruise articles detailing sumptuous suites, decadent dinners, and staff-to-guest ratios of 2:1 in some cases.
Overnight, my Instagram feed populated gorgeous images of sleek ships sailing on blue-glass water, attractive travelers with wind-swept hair sipping Champagne on the bow, and mesmerizing sail-away sunsets. I felt bereft.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Suddenly the cruise gap on my travel resume felt like a problem I had to solve.
The Perfect Cruise
I’d gotten familiar with quite a few cruise lines through my recent work and booking a cruise with Seabourn was a no-brainer. The luxury cruise line, owned by Carnival Corporation, receives praise for a number of things: caviar-and-Champagne-on-demand service, excellent staff, great food, and exciting itineraries. Despite its reputation as a high-end, luxury ship, it was supposedly not stuffy or pretentious—instead catering to travelers with discerning taste who were also down-to-earth. Sign me up!
Seabourn’s commitment to the finer things in life appealed to me. And the 600-passenger Seabourn Encore’s Turkey and Greece itinerary in late September fit perfectly with my schedule.
After two jam-packed days on the front end of the trip in Istanbul, where the Shangri-La Bosphorus set the bar high, my cruise companion/friend Lyndsey and I prepared to embark.
I’m still surprised at how seamless the check-in and boarding process was—as though Lyndsey and I were the only two people getting on the ship that afternoon. A fairly seasoned cruiser, Lyndsey admitted she was impressed. Ditto for the chilled bottle of Champagne waiting for us in our cabin.
While Lyndsey gushed over the full balcony (large enough to fit two chairs, two footrests, and a table), I took an appreciative tour of the Veranda Suite’s spacious, marble bathroom, complete with two sinks, a bathtub, and separate shower stall.
The walk-in closet and ample storage space—“There are actually enough hangers for both of us!” Lyndsey remarked as she hung up her dresses and skirts—proved another notable feature of the cabin.
The sleeping set-up was less impressive, though exactly what I pictured: Two twin beds, each with a small but functional night table, took up half of the cabin; the other half held a glass table, two chairs, and a couch.
After Shangri-La, it didn’t feel quite as luxurious as I’d hoped.
Care and Feeding
One evening, we were invited to a special, intimate cocktail hour for first-time Seabourn cruisers. Apple martinis were passed around, but when I hesitated, the server quickly assured me I could order anything I wanted. The bone-dry gin martini I went with instead paired well with the caviar cracker appetizer also being passed around.
A dozen or more staff introduced themselves to the room, noting their roles on Encore, how long they’d been with the company, and where they were from. An astounding number of countries were represented—Brazil; Japan; India; Philippines; Turkey; South Africa; England; Zimbabwe; Macedonia; United States—but the message was the same: “I will take care of you.”
Throughout the course of the seven-day journey, it was clear this was not just lip service. Engaging bartenders expressing genuine interest in whether or not your drink is perfect; the dining room manager letting us know about a special Thomas Keller Ad Hoc dinner at The Colonnade; the attentive yet unintrusive staff at the pool offering iced coffee, frozen pina coladas, or whatever you fancy; the immaculate work of the housekeeping staff who seemed to tidy our cabin in record time each day; and the smiles from every single crew member, morning, noon, and night.
If luxury cruise travel is about pampering and indulgence, it’s easy to see why so many travelers keep coming back for more.
The no planning aspect, or almost no planning (we did have to book excursions in advance and the dinner reservation at the lauded Thomas Keller establishment), turned out to be both freeing and limiting. As a Type A person, I love planning—researching a trip and bookmarking places to eat and things to see and do has always been something I enjoy—but it was nice not to have to think through the logistics of getting from Rhodes to Santorini. Or sifting through choices for a gulet cruise in Bodrum.
And it was even kind of nice to know that for five out of the seven nights, due to the port departure time, dinner would be at one of the ship’s five restaurants.
Well, so long as you didn’t miss the dining hour window.
In truth, there was never any danger of missing dinner, but one morning, I did miss breakfast. Room service, available 24 hours, was my only option, outside of a few small bites available at the coffee bar in Seabourn Square. While I imagine few passengers feel hungry again after dinner, which is typically a multi-course affair regardless of the venue, it struck me as odd that if one grew peckish after hours while sipping a nightcap in The Club, the only option would be to retreat to one’s room to order something off a rather limited room service menu.
Forget about the spontaneous stop at an Istanbul food cart on your way home from the bar; on board the ship, such a potentially regrettable (yet delicious) option doesn’t even exist.
Wined and Dined Redux
There’s something to be said about going out to dinner and not getting a bill. I could get used to picking up a latte and cookie whenever I wanted without thinking about the cost of the daily transaction. Ditto for a pre-dinner drink at one of several bars—no sticker shock cocktails up in this place.
On Encore, guests order off a menu that lists no prices (premium wines and certain top-shelf spirits do cost extra, but even then, the charges just go to your account, so there’s never any check to sign or gratuity to add), making the entire experience more relaxing and enjoyable.
It also makes it more indulgent. When you’re not sweating the typically mind-boggling cost of a caviar supplement (a notion I didn’t entertain for even a second while out to dinner at Le Bernardin in New York City), you’re simply delighting in the splendor. Instead of thinking about how much a glass of dessert wine will add to the total bill, you’re ordering with abandon (even if the decision is likely to make it harder to get up the next morning), soaking up the spirit of the cruise.
But as enjoyable as the proclivity to indulge was, it ultimately started to get a little old.
This Is Your Moment
At the beginning of the year, Seabourn launched the “This Is Your Moment” campaign, essentially encouraging the overindulgence that is part of sailing with the luxury cruise line. Throughout various points of our journey, Lyndsey and I would lift our glasses and toast to the cheesy, albeit catchy, phrase.
With travel’s (and arguably life’s) focus on self-care, the tagline is certainly fitting. Go ahead, you deserve this, Seabourn seems to be saying. In this moment, right now, the embarrassment of riches aboard the ship—from caviar-topped oysters to Champagne to an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast to daily room service, natch—this moment and the next and the next and the one after that, is yours to savor and cherish, before rinsing and repeating.
In the absence of the inevitable challenges that arise during traveling, it’s, in fact, more difficult to appreciate the happy-go-lucky moments, the requisite pampering, and the martinis on demand. It’s not that I wanted to find myself overcome with hanger wandering the streets of a foreign city in pursuit of the perfect, local restaurant in Beppu, Japan, only to wind up at a sub-par sushi joint with no liquor license (as I’d done before), or calling the front desk of my hotel in Grand Cayman to complain about the noise from the DJ party below as my husband and I tossed and turned and considered whether we might need to upend the anniversary trip by moving to a different hotel (also done this one), but these real-life travel experiences are what make the Champagne moments special.
“What are you going to drink tonight?” Lyndsey asked me on the last night of the cruise.
“Anything but Champagne,” I responded, itching for some elusive reward I feared couldn’t be obtained on a cruise ship.