Cruise Review: Seabourn Pride

Seabourn have been offering a one-of-a-kind product for decades, the line is to small ship cruising what Cunard is to ocean liners. Cruise Arabia took a cruise on Seabourn Pride in the Baltic to find out more about the famous Seabourn Experience.

Launched in 1988, Seabourn Pride was then, and still is, in a class of her own among other ships in the world’s luxury cruise fleet. Carrying just 208 passengers, she is small enough to feel intimate and exclusive, like a private yacht, while still offering the amenities one would expect from a five-star cruise ship. Her yacht-like profile and size, matched by her sister ships, the Legend and Spirit, as well as her sublimely tasteful and modern interiors, are what set Seabourn Pride apart from other ships sailing from the UAE this season. Of course, a little old-fashioned good service never goes amiss either!

Seabourn Pride may be pushing 24 (old age for a cruise liner), but her regular refurbishment program has kept her entirely up to date, so that, when one is aboard, she feels, looks, smells and sounds like a four-year-old vessel, fresh and clean and almost as large as the Dubai, His Highness Sheik Mohammad’s yacht, which is named after the emirate he rules. No doubt, His Highness would feel at home aboard Pride, which is why we have decided to take a look at Seabourn and find out what it is exactly that has made this cruise line so iconic over the past two decades.

The Atrium

One of the first things that strike one upon first sight of the ship is how contemporary she looks. It is hard to believe she was launched 23 years ago as she has a sleek, almost futuristic appearance in much the same way as the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which appears modern to this day, despite being an old dame by Dubai standards. The second impression is that of space, stepping up the passenger gangway into the main lobby, you could be forgiven for expecting the ship to be ‘cosy’, until you take in the large circular Atrium, dominated by a sweeping, curving gold-brass staircase. The floor here is of marble, with royal purple carpeting on the staircase. Indeed, this could be the lobby of a royal yacht and Seabourn would not have to change a thing, except perhaps the seating area adjacent to the staircase – the simple bench with a purple cushion looks a little mass-market.

Ocean View Suite

Seabourn Pride, like her sisters, provides potential guests with a choice of four different categories of suite, an Owner’s Suite, a Classic Suite, a Balcony Suite and an Ocean-View Suite. The Ocean-View was found to be exceptionally well-appointed and decorated, with enough space (in the walk-in closet) for the 14-day voyage through the Baltic and down the northern coast of France. The suite was laid out in the usual configuration of a 277 square foot ‘stateroom’ with a double bed (twins also available) nearest the door and en suite and a sitting area by the picture window beyond. A small writing desk faces the bed, along with a mirror, allowing it to double as a dressing table for ladies. Shortly after arrival, a stewardess makes an appearance welcoming one onboard with champagne and hors d’oeuvres, which is a nice touch and creates a go-to dynamic for any problems, which are invariably sorted quickly and efficiently. Although on this cruise there weren’t any, apart from asking for a firmer mattress, the request being carried out in the time it took to have a glass of champagne and a few items from the complimentary fruit basket.

For those travelling with children, Pride, along with other ships in the Seabourne fleet, offers ‘youth beds’ and ‘roll away beds’, which appear to be Seabourn’s equivalent to a camp-bed and sleeping bag – the comfort of these additional sleeping arrangements were not explored. The en suite is spacious compared to many ships of Pride’s size, with a shower and bathtub. The room also offers a complete entertainment system via the flat-screen television with DVD player and Bose Wave CD stereo system. Unpacking to the sound of one’s favourite music, while enjoying the welcome champagne, or a beverage from the complimentary mini-bar makes for a pleasant experience prior to departure. Seabourn set themselves apart from the competition here, as the mini-bar is stocked with guests’ favourite drinks and snacks, based on information provided at the time of booking and is entirely inclusive of the cruise price.

Seabourne Pride in the Kiel Canal

The 14-day Baltic Discovery and Russia II cruise is indeed an adventure, calling at some of the most iconic and historic ports in the world and from the comfort of Seabourn Pride the whole voyage takes on a nostalgic feel, as though time travel were possible, reminding guests of why ocean travel is still the most comfortable and elegant (but not fastest) way to get from point A to point B. Stockholm was the departure city for Seabourn Pride’s September sailing, with no less than nine ports of call, including the disembarkation port of Dover in the United Kingdom.

St Petersburg, the capital of Russia during the time of the monarchy, was the highlight of the voyage, with three whole days dedicated to this most magnificent of cities. As one would expect, Seabourn’s shore excursions for this city are prolific indeed, with twenty-three separate tours offered over the three days in port. This means just about any passenger can find an excursion that matches their interests and tastes, from a bike tour of Alexandria Park, or an evening of ballet, to a tour of the city’s cathedrals, or an exploration of  the Romanovs’ palaces.

But, St Petersburg is not at all an anomaly in terms of Seabourn’s focus on shore excursions. In fact, just three of the twelve ports included in the itinerary offer less than four different shore excursions: Mariehamn, the quaint little capital of Aland island in Finland; the ancient German town of Warnemunde, now a popular seaside resort; and Dover, one of the UK’s main port cities and a historical treasure-chest due to its strategic importance facing France across the narrowest stretch of the English Channel. It is also, of course, home to the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, which rose up out of the distance as the Seabourn Pride approached the end of her 14-day voyage across Northern Europe. Seabourn are famous for their insightful and well-thought-out shore excursions and none of the passengers we spoke to had any complaints about any of the tours they went on.

At Cruise Arabia, we firmly believe that there is no better way to travel than by ocean and crossing the Baltic on the Seabourn Pride is a memorable experience indeed. A Seabourn voyage is different than any other because of the intimacy between fellow passengers and between the passengers and crew as well, because of the size of the ships. Although Seabourn have recently added new vessels to their fleet, which are much larger, the Pride, like her sisters (Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend), is small enough that she feels like a yacht, but large enough to provide stability and plenty of amenities.

Two days at sea and a full-day transit of the Kiel Canal provide ample opportunity to explore the ship and her public areas, from the Observation Lounge at the bow to the Sky Bar overlooking the pool area. The services and amenities associated with five-star ocean travel are easily located on a ship this size. There is a small, but adequate, shopping boutique on Deck 6, as well as a casino and library and a surprisingly spacious gym with all the necessary equipment, which is conveniently located just aft of The Spa on Deck 7, so a relaxing massage can be enjoyed with an ocean view after a workout. Up here, there is also a Beauty Salon that offers male and female treatments. Deck 5 is where the Computer Centre is located, so guests can keep in touch with shore using the Internet – for a fee, which some guests say is annoying considering the price of a Seabourn cruise.

The Observation Lounge

The 10,000 ton, 135 metre Seabourn Pride, surprisingly, has been designed with three lounges and three restaurants, but does not feel packed as many larger cruise ships sometimes can. The Observation Lounge is a great place from which to watch as the ship enters port, a particularly memorable experience when entering a city like St Petersburg, or watching the White Cliffs of Dover take shape out of the haze on the horizon. Seabourn Pride’s size allows her to nose her way into areas of ports that other ship’s cant, so the approach to any destination is not to be missed…get seats in the Observation Lounge early!

The stern on Deck 6 is home to The Club, which (apart from the Show Lounge) is the closest lounge to The Restaurant, the ship’s main dining room and is a great place in which to have a pre-dinner drink and watch the ship’s wake. Post-dinner drinks here are also popular as there is a DJ and dancing to be done, or watched, depending on your taste. The Veranda Cafe is the ship’s secondary dining room, but one needs to make a reservation in advance and the indoor section can only be accessed by stepping outside, which can be problematic in inclement weather.

The Show Lounge

The Show Lounge is the entertainment heart of the ship, with nightly programs from magicians and singers to dancers and comedians. Seabourn’s entertainment offering on this Baltic cruise was impressive, considering the limitations of such a small ship and gave guests a chance to get up close to the entertainment staff, no matter where in the tiered-lounge one was sitting. The only problem one might encounter is fatigue, as a destination intensive itinerary does not lend itself to staying up for the shows, which start rather late after dinner. This is not Seabourn’s fault though, one could hardly criticise them for presenting passengers with a range of options to pass the time.

The complementary nature of beverages onboard ship are part of the carefree nature of a Seabourn cruise and make the lounges and bars great places to relax. Pride can’t carry more than 208 passengers, which makes the ship very social and allows Seabourn staff to get to know you and remember your needs so that service becomes intuitive. Food preferences in the dining room, for example, are remembered and requests are carried out exactly. If you ask for your steak rare, you’ll get it rare and unusual requirements, such as particular items removed from a meal, are adhered to, which will no-doubt impress UAE-based passengers as the UAE is a country in which it can be hard to get waitrons to understand specific instructions. However, some passengers have complained that the complimentary beverages fell short of high-end expectations, with super-market quality wines sometimes gracing the inclusive wine list.

The Restaurant

Seabourn’s focus on service and atmosphere more than makes up for the areas in which the line can sometimes fall short. The line is a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious culinary society and prides itself on serving award-winning cuisine made with “the finest quality ingredients”, according to promotional material, but the food served onboard was one of the only areas in which the Pride received negative reviews. Particular criticism was levelled at the salad selections, which some felt were a little lacking in diversity, while the food was also called bland by some cruisers. Other criticisms we found to in fact be a plus-factor, such as 2% fat milk in teas and coffees; Cruise Arabia rather prefers the healthier choice!

Seabourn then is certainly a five-star luxury cruise line, run by staff that go above and beyond to make guests feel welcome, and to provide them with an exceptional cruise experience. The experience of taking a Seabourn cruise is the line’s bread-and-butter, because it is different to any other luxury cruise provider. One notable incident that should be mentioned is that of a woman who took a cruise on the Pride in Vietnam and found the ship’s spa treatments to be more expensive than they were in her booking confirmation, Seabourn not only apologised for the administrative mix up, but also refunded her.

Veranda Cafe

Saving the best for last, we feel compelled to mention Seabourn Pride’s marina, her major advantage over the competition. This is a fold-down-and-out arrangement at the stern of the ship on the waterline, creating a walkway around an ocean pool. Seabourn call it the marina, but on private yachts this facility is often referred to as a beach club and indeed reminds one that Pride is more of a yacht than a cruise ship. She and her sisters are indeed unique.

 

Destinations in 14-day Baltic Discovery and Russia II voyage

1 Stockholm – Departed 5pm

The capital of Sweden, Stockholm was a beautiful departure point for the Baltic Discovery and Russia II cruise. Founded in the 13th century and growing up through the years as the cultural, political and transportation hub of the nation, this city needs several days dedicated to it for a full exploration, a fact attested to by the 10 different short excursions offered by Seabourn prior to departure. Featuring historical buildings, world class museums and some of the cleanest waterways in the world, choosing the right shore excursion here can be difficult!

Stockholm’s Old Town, located on its own island, is a particularly beautiful part of the city, Seabourn’s ‘Historical Rooftop Walk’ is a great way to see this part of the city.

2 Mariehamn – Arrived 12pm – Departed 5pm

This charming little city is the capital of the Aland Islands, an autonomous territory that falls under the sovereignty of Finland. The city has a long and fascinating maritime history, attested by the popular museum ship Pommern of the historic Flying P-Line. Mariehamn and the wider Aland region are intensely beautiful areas and the ‘Taste of Aland’ tour was a great way to get a snapshot of the area with a scenic drive, a look at Kastelholm Castle and a tasting of locally produced wines and liqueurs at Jan Karlsgården museum.

The historic museum ship Pommern is a popular tourist attraction, she is part of the legacy of the Flying P-Line and an interesting glimpse into ocean travel at the turn of the 19th century.

3 Helsinki – Arrived 8am – Departed 4pm

The capital of, and largest city in, Finland, Helsinki is one of the preeminent cities in Europe and one of the most beautiful in the world, filled with interesting sights and experiences. The ship spent eight hours in the city, providing much time for sightseeing, including the ‘Helsinki Highlights and Porvoo’ tour, which included stops at Senate Square, the New Opera House, Olympic Stadium, Finlandia Hall, the National Museum, Parliament House and the Contemporary Art Museum, as well as a tour of the village of Porvoo, dating back to the 14th century. We wish there had been time to take the Archipelago Speedboat Adventure!

Helsinki is a treasure trove of beautiful buildings, her cathedrals are particularly impressive.

4 St Petersburg – Arrived 8am – Departed 5pm (Two nights later)

Truly awe-inspiring in size, the former capital of Russia remains one of the world’s gems of former political importance and grandeur. Like an aged empress, St Petersberg is somewhat diminished in terms of world power, but sits firmly atop her throne in Russia’s tourist industry as one of the most visited cities. Seabourn seeks to boggle its guests’ minds with an astonishing 23 different shore excursions ranging from biking in the park to a hop over to Moscow, the current Russian capital and home to the infamous Kremlin. No tour of St Petersburg is complete without a look at Catherine’s Palace, so the ‘Romanovs Imperial Residences’ tour proved extremely enjoyable.

The opulence of Catherine’s Palace is rivalled by very few former and current royal residences; the building is so ornate it’s almost surreal.

5 Riga – Arrived 8am – Departed 5pm

The capital of Latvia, lying at the mouth of the Daugava River, is one of the most underrated of Europe’s major cities. Riga is a major Baltic seaport and economic and cultural centre for the region, with a city centre that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s German Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture is said to be unparalleled and the ‘City Canal Cruise’ tour along the waterways of the Old Town is a great way to see some of the city’s best sites, such as the Freedom Monument, National Opera House, Latvian State University and the Riga Central Market, which was the second largest in Europe in its heyday.

Riga is famed for its German Art Nouveau architecture, which has given the city UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

6 Klaipeda – Arrived 1pm – Departed 6pm

One of the only ports on the Baltic Sea usually free of ice, Klaipeda is an important Lithuania economic hub situated at the mouth of the Nemunas River. The ‘Charms Of Franciscan Kretinga’ tour took in many of the city’s most significant stops, including the Clock and Watches Museum, the Neo-Gothic Post office building, the Park of Sculptures and the Soviet WWII memorial. The Old Water Mill house in Kretinga features an interesting exhibit of Lithuanian ethnographic art. Here there is also the 17th century Church of the Annunciation with its restored 400-year-old main altar. The tour also includes a look at the adjoining Franciscan monastery, which combines Renaissance and Baroque styling.

Klaipeda’s town centre is an exceptionally pretty place to end the day.

7 Gdansk – Arrived 7am – Departed 9pm

Poland’s primary port, Gdansk is located on the Baltic and features a complicated history as a member of the ancient Hanseatic League and conquest, freedom and incorporation into modern Poland. Seabourn offered just four tours in Gdansk, which were all fantastic, according to fellow passengers, but it seems odd that only four tours were offered in a port where the ship stayed the longest after the two nights in St Petersburg. The ‘Gdansk, Malabork Castle & Oliva’ tour was a full-day undertaking and included all the major attractions and landmarks in the city, including a walking tour of Old Town and Malbork Castle and a poke around the famous cathedral in the 12th century town of Oliva where the excursion ended with a dramatic organ concert.

Malbork Castle is an ancient fortified castle, built when the area was controlled by the Teutonic Knights almost a thousand years ago.

8 Ronne – Arrived 1pm – Departed 6pm

With its origins dating back over 1,000 years, Ronne, a small town on the island of Bornholm, is a popular tourist destination for visitors in the region, especially Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Poland. The five hour half-day stop in Ronne provided the opportunity to explore the wider island as well as the town itself and Seabourn’s ‘Scenic Bohrnholm By Bike’ tour is a great way to experience some of the sights. It starts with a ride through the little town, before heading out over the island’s farmlands, with a stop at Nyker Round Church, the smallest on the island and a cafe for…yes, Danish pastries and coffee!

 

The little Nyker Round Church is the smallest on the island, set amid the idyllic countryside.

9 Warnemunde (or Berlin) – Arrived 7am – Departed 9pm

A popular German seaside resort on the Baltic, Warnemunde was Seabourn Pride’s penultimate port of call and the last stop before Dover. Seabourn’s range of 13 different shore excursions offered a range of opportunities for exploration; there were tours to Berlin, the town of Warnemunde itself and the wider countryside, such as Rostock, the monastery town of Bad Doberan, the little town of Ribnitz-Damgarten and a steam train ride along the coast.

A steam train journey is a great way to see the countryside and ends with a tour of the 700-year-old monastery town of Bad Doberan.

Kiel Canal – Entered 8am – Exited 6pm

Although not a port of call on the cruise, the daylight transit of Seabourn Pride through the Kiel Canal was an interesting experience, with fantastic views afforded from the ship’s Observation Lounge and aft-facing Veranda Cafe. The 61-mile canal is one of the busiest in the world, eclipsing both the Panama and Suez waterways in traffic if not in prestige or fame. Kiel Canal is not a vital shipping link like the previous two iconic canals, but is saves around 250 miles of sailing around the Jutland Peninsula.

There were great viewing opportunities from the ship’s Observation Lounge and aft Veranda Cafe.

10 Dover – Arrived 8am

Facing the UK’s 18th century adversary across the narrowest part of the English Channel, Dover was the last port of call and end point of the cruise. Due to its proximity to France, the city is a major ferry port and one of the busiest harbours in the UK. Because of its strategic location during the Napoleonic Wars and the Second World War, when France was occupied by Nazi Germany, the port city has a fascinating history, represented to this day by the dominating Dover Castle that overlooks the city. In fact, archaeological evidence found in the city suggests the port has been a significant point of exit and entry into the UK for millennia and that Dover was first settled as far back as the Stone Age. The ‘Leeds Castle And Airport Transfer’ tour provided a glimpse into the historical legacy of Leeds Castle, a magnificent building that has played a pivotal role in the formation of the United Kingdom. The castle is arguably the most famous in the country and has served as a Norman strong-hold, a royal residence to six of England’s medieval Queens, a playground and palace to Henry VIII, and a private home. The tour concluded with a transfer to the airport.

Leeds Castle, near Dover, is widely regarded to be among the most beautiful and romantic in the UK, it was a playground for Henry the VIII and a home to six of Medieval England’s queens.

 

Seabourn Pride at a glance:

Launched:                                          1988 (with Seabourn since 1996)

Refurbished (most recent):             2007

GRT:                                                    10,000

Length:                                               440’ (134.1m)

Beam:                                                 63’ (19.2m)

Capacity (double occupancy):       208

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