Having taken two earlier cruises with Seabourn, on the Odyssey and the Sojourn, we were excited to sail on the cruise line's latest ship, the 600 passenger Encore. Overall, the experience was great, the crew as always was friendly and attentive, though we did have some issues with service that we attributed to this being a new ship and new crew.
One of our concerns in moving from Seabourn's 450 passenger ships to the larger Encore was crowding. Fortunately, this was almost never an issue. The public spaces like Seabourn Square and the pool area were enlarged, so we almost always able to grab a chair or a chaise lounge. The overall design of the ship is similar to the others in the Seabourn fleet, but classier, with more artwork and more dark woods.
We has a V5 level cabin. As on prior voyages with Seabourn, we found the cabin to be exceptional, offering plenty of space and amenities. Large king size bed, seating area for 4 people, walk in closet, bathroom with two sinks, a shower and a tub - can't ask for more. While the cabin on the Encore was rated as the same size as those on the Odyssey and Sojourn (300 sq ft), we thought the Encore cabin was slightly thinner but longer. And Seabourn had replaced the bleached wood on the Odyssey and Sojourn with cherry. The 50 sq ft, balcony, with a table and two chairs, also got a lot of use.
Ports and Shore Excursions
Our 16 day cruise encompassed several ports in New Zealand and Australia. This was a great way to see these countries, as the distances between ports would make a land trip challenging. In New Zealand, we visited the big cities of Auckland and Wellington along with several smaller ports - Tauranga, Napier, Picton, Akoroa, Dunedin, and Stewart Island - and a cruise through the Fiorland National Park, including the stunning Milford Sound. All of the ports were interesting. The smaller ports in particular were much better than we had anticipated - each showing off their individual charm. In Australia, we visited Melbourne, Geelong (a suburb of Melbourne) and Sydney. All three stops were great; Sydney in particular deserves its reputation as a great city to visit.
We purchased excursions for five ports and each one was excellent, both for what we were able to see as well as for the enthusiastic tour guides.
Tauranga - we took the excursion to Hobbiton, about a 30 minute ride from the port. For fans of the movies, this is a must. An outdoor movie set of the Shire. Much larger and more elaborate than expected.
Picton - we took the excursion to the vineyards of Marlborough, visiting the Cloudy Bay and Wither Hills wineries. Both stops were great. This excursion also included a stop at a local home with an elaborate English garden, which was well worth the visit.
Oban, Stewart Island - we took the excursion that gives you the highlights of the island, which lays south of New Zealand's South Island. Can't say enough good things about Stewart Island. Alot of beauty, not alot of people.
Geelong - we took the excursion to the Aboriginal Cultural Center; unstated in the description, we also got an overview of the waterfront and town of Geelong. Both stops were quite instructive. Geelong has a wonderful waterfront dotted with artwork. The Aboriginal Cultural Center was quite informative.
The Encore has two new restaurants for Seabourn - The Grill by Thomas Keller and Sushi. Both fell short of delivering an exciting culinary experience.
The Grill by Thomas Keller presented dishes created by the famous chef. Having eaten at Per Se in NY and at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, we were excited about what Keller would come up with for Seabourn. While the food was excellent, it was not exciting or daring. Frankly, we missed the tasting menu from Seabourn's Restaurant 2.
Sushi offered bento boxes at lunch and sushi at dinner. Being so close to Asia, the limited menu was a disappointment.
The Encore's main Restaurant was bigger and more airy than on the older ships. The food, as always, was excellent.
A word about dining service - at times, especially early in the cruise, it was slow. It seemed as if the kitchen was still getting its sea legs, so to speak. Also, at dinner, if you ordered wine, the wine steward would stop by our table frequently to refill our glasses. But if we ordered water or a soda, we could not get a refill without flagging someone down. Seabourn appears not to have assigned anyone to refill water glasses.