Seabourn offers a choice of shore excursions, all at extra cost and ranging from half-days to long, sometimes taxing full days. Excursions can be booked online in advance, at the shore excursions desk, or via the in-cabin TV, and they do fill up. Private cars and guides can also be arranged, either in advance or via the shore excursions desk when onboard.
Some excursions have loose themes. The booklet provided in each cabin indicates which ones visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites; which include an element of adventure; and which might work for anybody interested in "mindful living," although these don't include anything extra, like meditation; they're simply to sites of spiritual interest, like Buddhist monuments. The plan is that the onboard mindful living coach will escort one tour per cruise so passengers can chat with them, but this didn't happen on our cruise.
Some excursions are also labeled Ventures by Seabourn and may involve kayaking (in the ship's own kayaks), snorkeling (again, equipment is provided), hiking or simply exploring a remote coastline in one of the ship's six Zodiac inflatables with a wildlife guide who is part of the six-strong Ventures by Seabourn team.
Excursions are expensive, but they're thorough. Water and sometimes snacks are provided, as are hand-sanitizing towels. The included lunches we tried were of a high standard. There was minimal waiting to disembark for tours, and no issues with waiting in line to get back onboard at the end. When the ship is at anchor, the lifeboats are used as tenders.
Keep an eye out for the shopping with the chef excursion, which takes passengers to the local market with the ship's chef. This one is free to any passenger, but you can't book it ahead of time; instead, look for it in your daily cruise schedule. When you see it, pounce! The excursion limits the number of participants, and it will fill up.
Shuttle buses are brought in for ports located away from the nearest town; there is no charge for these.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
The Grand Salon on Deck 6 serves as theater, concert venue and lecture hall onboard. Although it's chic in design, with big, comfortable seats, sadly, it isn't the most appealing of spaces, as several pillars really interrupt sightlines. Having said that, the space is intimate enough to work well for Seabourn Conversations, the excellent lecture program, and the stage is big enough for some decent production shows, which take place twice nightly. There's bar service during the shows and hot and cold drinks at the entrance for daytime events.
Four singers and dancers and two ballroom dance experts perform in the ship's own shows, with a mixture of stage sets and virtual backdrops. The productions are competent enough, although not earth-shatteringly different. The highlight was "An Evening With Tim Rice," which was superb; the celebrated lyricist narrates (on film) his anecdotes, interspersed with live performances of songs from "Chess," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "The Lion King," among others, by the ship's singers.
On our cruise, there were a number of guest performers. Three Australian tenors filled the house, although anybody hoping for actual opera was sorely disappointed, "Nessun Dorma" aside. We watched a British magician one night, too.
One deck down on Deck 5, there's a miniature casino adjacent to The Club, with three gaming tables offering roulette, blackjack and poker, and 16 slots. The minimum bet is $1 on roulette, $10 for blackjack and poker. The casino gets quite busy at night; 600 passengers is a big enough crowd to generate some high rollers, who add to the glamor. Outside the door, a humidor display sells Romeo y Julieta, Cohiba and Monte Cristo cigars; note that the casino is nonsmoking.
By day, trivia contests are held in the Observation Bar on Deck 11, with teams accumulating rolling points as the cruise progresses. These are famously competitive. Less intense is the occasional music quiz, for which you don't need to join a team. Other activities include Friends of Bill W. meetings; LGBT get-togethers, unhosted bridge classes and informal play in the Card Room on Deck 8; occasional dance classes with the ship's professionals; and galley tours. There's no charge for any of these.
Seabourn is known for its Conversations and gets some decent guest speakers onboard, relevant to the destination in which the ship is sailing. On our Asia cruise, lecturers spoke about food, herbs and spices, volcanology and anthropology. There were also seminars on mindful living and the usual array of talks from the Steiner-run spa, designed to sell products.
The ship also carries a team of six as part of the Ventures by Seabourn program, which mixes adventurous excursions using the ship's fleet of Zodiacs with talks on the wildlife in the area and a daily wildlife watch from the deck outside Seabourn Square.
Seabourn Encore has some beautiful bars and lounges, although the dynamic is quite different from that of the line's other ships. The Grill Bar on Deck 8 has quickly become the place to be seen, while the Observation Bar on Deck 11 has its own following and The Club, so popular on the other ships, seems emptier.
The Club (Deck 5): The late-night venue is done out in mahogany, dark blue and gold, with a contemporary chandelier over the small dance floor. There's banquette seating and small glass tables, and a jukebox in one corner. A quartet plays here before dinner and from the end of dinner until late, and couples get up to dance. The black marble bar is horseshoe-shaped, perched on a raised area with a backlit display of colored bottles. What's odd is that there's no room for the bartenders to mix drinks here, so they keep disappearing into a small galley behind the bar, which kills the vibe somewhat. Nonetheless, The Club is busy late at night, helped by the proximity of the casino and an aft deck area to cool off from dancing.
The Grill Bar (Deck 8): This is the place to be seen before and after dinner and is often standing room only; pianist and singer Katy Shotter, when she's onboard, plays to a devoted following and creates the vibe of a classy jazz bar. The retro-look watering hole is an extension of the smart Grill by Thomas Keller and has the same cocktail menu as the Observation Bar. After it closes at midnight, those left standing head down to Deck 5 to The Club.
Patio Bar (Deck 9): This poolside bar sits in one corner, with wooden bar stools, and does a lively trade in poolside drinks all day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Waiters circulate with trays of anything from spritz to daiquiris, and provide an efficient service, so you don't really even need to get up off your lounger.
Sky Bar (Deck 10): One deck up from the pool on the starboard side, this small bar is essentially a version of the Patio Bar below, but saves having to walk down the stairs to place an order. It's by the smoking area, so smokers tend to congregate here.
The Observation Bar (Deck 11): Adam D. Tihany has created a gorgeous, light-filled room. Over the circular bar, there's a big skylight adorned with a whimsical glass sculpture of fish in shades of blue. The decor is tan, cream and rich blue and the bar itself is particularly stylish, with brown leather, marble detailing and blue chairs. The noisiest crowd sits here, chatting with the mixologists. These bartenders make a mean cocktail; try the Vespa, or the signature Ship Made Tonic with Gin, a G&T with a twist, using lime juice, raw quinine powder, soda, sugar and gin. A great piano duo plays up here in the evenings and after dinner, while those with pre-dinner munchies are enticed by a display of tapas between 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. In the afternoon, dainty cakes, gooey cookies, sandwiches and fruit tarts are served along with a nice selection of loose-leaf teas, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
A decent-sized pool with teak surround and two hot tubs are the focal points of Deck 9. There are masses of rattan loungers, including some double mattresses on platforms at either end of the pool, but not much shade, which is a problem when the ship is in the tropics. There's a sense of luxury and pampering around the pool with an endless supply of soft towels, for example, and waiters who come round with sunblock, or to clean your sunglasses.
What's particularly appealing about Encore, though, is that there are so many alternative outside spaces. There's a small plunge pool and two hot tubs surrounded by loungers and chairs and tables aft on Deck 5, outside The Club, which is a quiet space to sit by day and an extension of the bar and nightclub area by night (although the net tends to be put over the pool to deter any late-night swimmers). On Deck 7, Seabourn Square opens aft onto another area set up with rattan loungers, chairs and tables. The Ventures team stand here on wildlife watch and passengers come and chat to them; it's a peaceful spot, with permanent shade.
Forward on Deck 7, there's a sunbathing area with a hot tub, three big taupe rattan sofas and some loungers. You get a sea breeze here, but there's absolutely no shade. On Deck 10, there are loungers all around the area looking down on the pool, and a quiet relaxation area aft that belongs to the spa. Yet more outdoor seating is located forward of the Observation Bar on Deck 11, and in another sun trap forward of The Retreat cabanas on Deck 12. If you occupy this, there's drinks service from the bar area of The Retreat, which saves running all the way down to the Sky Bar.
Seabourn Square is the heart of the ship, with four concierge desks at the center, all of them open to the room, although passengers requiring more privacy can be seen somewhere less exposed. Seabourn Square is like a comfortable living room, with groups of tables and sofas in gold velour, shiny mahogany and cream leather, shelves of books, magazine racks and a giant jigsaw. There are three internet terminals, although most people use the Wi-Fi that's available throughout the ship; it's neither cheap nor fast. Prices are: $0.40 per minute pay-as-you-go; two hours for $19.95; three hours for $29.95; four for $39.95; seven days for $239.95; and unlimited for seven days or more $399.95.
The shops are tucked away along one side of Seabourn Square and sell logowear, designer cruise wear, perfume, beauty products, Molton Brown and everyday essentials. There's a Furla purse section. Other services include a card room on Deck 8 with 12 tables, and two meeting rooms on Deck 7 used for private events and religious services.
The lack of a passenger launderette caused great indignation when the ship was launched so one was added on Deck 5 -- and the plans for Seabourn Ovation, still in the shipyard, have already been adapted. The launderette is free to use and has five washers, five dryers, ironing boards and a utility sink.
The ship has a medical facility on Deck 4.
The Spa, which is run by Steiner and branded as Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil, has a theme of mindfulness, which translates into the treatments and the classes in the gym; you won't find hard-core aerobics here or aggressive treatments like Botox.
The whole spa and gym complex is located aft on Deck 10, a tranquil, soothing environment in creams and whites with a wine-red, circular reception deck under a ceiling studded with starry lights. Six treatment rooms are located port side, and on the starboard side, there are men's and women's locker rooms, with a sauna in each one, and a salon for hair, nails, waxing and, new to Seabourn, a men's area offering shaves from $48, mani-pedi treatments and a full pro-collagen groom and shave for $85. There's a small thermal suite with steam and a Mediterranean sauna (less dry than the Nordic version) and heated, tiled recliners, leading to a quiet deck space with soft loungers. A day pass here is $99 per person, or $150 for a couple.
The gym is pretty small, with treadmills, bikes, a rowing machine and free weights; regulars said the space could have been larger. Ditto the small Motion Studio for exercise classes. The problem here is two-fold. The classes don't appear on the daily program, which is annoying; you have to go up to the spa and check and by the time we realized this, everything was booked. Which is the second problem -- there just isn't enough space. Classes, if you can get in, include core and abs; yoga (flow and chakra); guided meditation; Pilates; and one tougher workout. They're mainly free, although we tried a Sound Bath for $15, which was a weird but deeply relaxing meditation to the sound of a therapist stroking crystal bowls to create different vibrations.
Treatments in the spa include an extension of this sound therapy, where the heavy bowls are placed on your body ($99) and more standard fare: Reflexology at $135 for 50 minutes up to a hot stone massage of 90 minutes for $289.
There's also a series of talks but you have to distinguish between the educational -- some excellent lectures by Dr. Andrew Weil or his associates, who will travel on other cruises -- and the sales pitches, like a pointless footprint analysis, which was designed purely to sell ready-moulded orthotics.
For those who really want to embrace the wellness theme, there's a $499 package including three thermal suite passes and a selection of treatments and classes.
There's no jogging track, although people do power walk the short distance around Deck 10, looking down on the pool. The putting green that appears on the smaller ships has been sacrificed to make space for The Retreat (to grumbling from some passengers) and there's one table tennis table, tucked away up on Deck 11. Encore has a watersports platform that's lowered on some itineraries to offer kayaks, pedal-boating and banana boat rides if the weather cooperates.
Another new addition to Seabourn Encore is The Retreat, located forward on Deck 12. You might think that the ship is luxurious enough in itself, but the cruise line clearly still sees a market for those seeking an even more VIP experience, hence The Retreat. This exclusive enclave features 15 cabanas set around a central, shared hot tub, the whole complex shaded by giant horizontal sails. The idea is that, for $249 per cabana on a port day and $349 on a sea day, you get an entire day of indolent lounging.
Each cabana, which is like a living room that's closed on three sides, the fourth facing the hot tub, has a sofa, fridge, flat-screen TV with wireless headphones and out front, two big, squashy loungers. We think there's a bit of a missed opportunity here, as cabanas could have been positioned facing the sea, providing more privacy and unobstructed ocean views.
A chilled bottle of Bollinger Champagne greets each arrival (and is replaced if you want more) and there's a lunch menu with everything made a la minute. Items include the most exquisite buffalo mozzarella salad; shrimp with spicy sauce; grilled sea bass; Caesar salad; a posh BLT; steaks and burgers; and a decadent chocolate sundae. Platters of fresh fruit keep coming, as well as tortilla chips with little bowls of dip, and there's a menu of handcrafted cocktails, including an amazing avocado daiquiri. There's one spa cabana and if you don't use it for a treatment, a $50 credit is applied. Worth it? Definitely as a treat -- the cost is really no more than paying for two shore excursions.
This area really is very private, although the occupants of each cabana can see one another (you can pull a curtain across the front if you want more privacy). Anybody who hasn't rented a cabana is quickly but politely sent away by the attendants if they come up here to snoop.
Although Encore is primarily a luxurious playground for adults, families do travel on Seabourn, especially during the school holidays and mainly in multigenerational groups. If there are 15 to 20 kids onboard, a youth program is offered, breaking them into two groups -- ages 5 to 12 and 13 to 17 -- and including activities like galley tours and treasure hunts. Some cabins have interconnecting doors and some sleep three, which is good for families. There are no kids' menus, but the choice is such that they're not really necessary, and babysitting is not offered.
The minimum age to sail is 6 months on most sailings but 1 year on all ocean crossings.