Seabourn Cruises’ new Seabourn Venture, the line’s first expedition vessel, is absolutely one of the most aesthetically pleasing and luxurious to enter the expedition sector. Carrying up to 264 passengers, the ship features a small atrium with a crystal sculpture and gorgeous skylight; comfy lounges reminiscent of upscale lodges, complete with faux fireplaces; two submarines that take passengers on for-fee underwater excursions; and elegantly appointed accommodations, all of which are suites with their own bathtubs and clothes dryers (perfect for use in the Arctic and Antarctic).
Although it’s beautiful, the ship doesn’t feel like a private yacht or, conversely, a rugged ice-breaking vessel, but a smaller, more adventurous version of a typical Seabourn Cruises ship. That similarity will work well for the line because many of my fellow cruisers on a 14-night voyage around Greenland and Arctic Canada were Seabourn stalwarts — loyalists who sail with the brand over and over and enjoy the sense of familiarity it provides across its vessels.
Like the line’s other ships, Seabourn Venture houses Seabourn Square, a social hub with snacks, coffee and a guest services desk; The Restaurant, which serves as the main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and The Colonnade, a buffet and table-service venue that converts to table-service-only Earth & Ocean for dinner, offering bistro-style cuisine that rotates throughout each voyage.
Although the vessel excels in the way of aesthetics and food, there were some minor service niggles in the dining room (long waits between courses, incorrect items delivered) that I’m sure will be worked out soon. The biggest pain point, however, is that onboard activities are limited; in regions where the itinerary can change at a moment’s notice due to weather or sea conditions, there should be more contingency plans in place.
Here, I’ll further break down what makes the ship truly feel like a luxury experience and what Seabourn is still learning about expedition cruising.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.
What I loved
“Oh, it’s green!” I caught myself saying as my Zodiac (inflatable boat) pulled away from the ship on the second day of the voyage. When we embarked via Zodiac the day prior, the vessel was backlit by the sun, and I could have sworn it was dark blue. Instead, Seabourn Venture’s hull is done up in an earthy, dark forest green, fitting for hardware that focuses heavily on itineraries to remote places replete with nature.
But don’t let the intriguing color choice fool you; underneath the glitz is a specially strengthened hull that can cut straight through first-year ice, allowing the ship to travel close to the top of the world.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
The onboard vibe is also one of earth tones, with greens, grays, browns, tans and taupes taking center stage. Lounges are outfitted with plush couches and chairs, faux fireplaces and decor — like diving mask artwork, sculptures designed to look like coral and odes to explorers like Roald Amundsen — that evokes both nature and adventure.
Cabins are especially swanky, with bright bathrooms, all of which feature bathtubs (although not all passengers liked them and said they’d rather have a larger shower instead). Walk-in closets provide ample storage, even for long sailings, and every room comes with a small drying closet that’s a welcome touch after rainy days and wet landings (when you put on waterproof boots provided by the ship and step off the Zodiac into the water when you reach the shore). It’s small in-room touches like Swarovski binoculars and a pillow menu that further embellish the ship’s already thoughtful design.
From over-the-top extras like submarine rides and unlimited complimentary caviar and Champagne to smaller indulgences like bubble baths (fake rose petals and all, thanks to my room stewards who surprised me), it’s the added elements that make Seabourn Venture stand out.
Caviar in the surf is one of Seabourn’s signature events during each cruise. When the climate permits, members of the crew stand in the water, usually in a beachy port, to serve passengers caviar and Champagne. On cold-weather itineraries, the event is presented on the pool deck, with small tables set up to accommodate the soiree. If that’s not enough, passengers can call room service to order caviar and Champagne to their rooms any time of day, absolutely free.
Additionally, all cabins are provided with Molton Brown toiletries (five types of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and lotion at the most basic level) and small touches like nightly treats (chocolates, cookies, nuts and other snacks). My room stewards were also kind enough to deliver a paper copy of The Herald, the ship’s daily schedule, to my cabin each day. (Seabourn now leans heavily on its mobile app to advertise what’s happening around the ship.)
Although there were some minor service issues, the ship’s dining experiences were consistently stellar across the board.
The food was generally excellent, but my favorite place to eat for dinner was Earth & Ocean, a sit-down restaurant that takes up residence in The Colonnade buffet each night, presenting waiter-served cuisine that changes daily.
The venue offers a variety of food that’s thoughtfully prepared and delicious to boot. For me, the two best were the “Earth & Ocean” and Indian-themed nights. The former served out-of-this-world bacon breadsticks; burrata with heirloom tomatoes, basil and toasted ciabatta bread; buttered chicken curry; curried crisp naan; and royale bouillabaisse including lobster, sole, and scallops. The latter’s menu consisted of mouthwatering dishes like naan with raita, mango chutney and chili butter; chicken and vegetable samosas; shrimp curry; chicken tikka masala; and curried vegetables with saffron pilaf rice.
Also worth a shout-out is the gelato served for dessert in all venues. However, you’ll find the largest selection, made fresh daily, at Seabourn Square. It’s free, and you can snag flavors like cookies and cream, pistachio and hazelnut coffee in cups or cones.
Friendly, well-traveled passengers
Seabourn passengers are a largely well-traveled group. During my sailing, I was surrounded by doctors, lawyers, government workers, finance experts and others whose life experiences made for some of the most intelligent conversations I’ve ever had on a cruise. (It also meant that onboard trivia sessions were a close race every single time, often with ties for first place.)
I was a bit worried that, given the voyage’s high price point — cabins started at $36,000 for two people — I might feel out of place among the other passengers. Apart from a slight age gap that caused several of my fellow cruisers to mistake me for a crew member, I found there to be no shortage of friendly conversation and invitations to grab drinks or play cards.
Because the ship is small and the sailing lasted two weeks, I ran into the same people again and again and had more time to get to know them — a welcome occurrence because I was traveling by myself.
What needs work
As the expedition staff on Seabourn Venture says, sailings to places like the Arctic require “flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.” Passengers were forced to be flexible after poor conditions forced the staff to cancel most of the voyage’s scheduled submarine dives and kayaking excursions, both of which cost extra. Other planned excursions, such as hikes and helicopter sightseeing, were also scrapped.
On the back half of the itinerary, the original schedule included two port days, two sea days, another port day and two more sea days. All three port days were aborted due to weather, leaving the 14-day itinerary with seven consecutive days at sea to finish out the voyage.
What shocked me more than the changes and cancellations was the fact that the expedition and entertainment teams didn’t seem to have a plan B. There were no backup ports to visit, and only very late in the sailing did I start to hear of alternative onboard programming — lectures, bridge and submarine visits, wildlife viewing opportunities — being offered to help pass the time that we would otherwise have spent taking Zodiac rides.
Although unpredictable weather isn’t anyone’s fault, I wonder if, perhaps, the ship visited the region too late in the season, an observation made by several of my fellow cruisers and some members of the expedition team. Changes can happen on any cruise, but they’re flat-out expected on expedition cruises — something with which I think Seabourn might struggle to get across to its most loyal passengers ahead of time, given that they’re accustomed to ocean cruises with more static plans.
I’m sure the decisions were made with everyone’s safety in mind, and that’s a good thing. But, as a side note, I do wonder if the way Seabourn has chosen to house its expedition ships’ Zodiacs is a hindrance, particularly when the weather isn’t perfect. Instead of including a marina on the vessel — which many other expedition ships do — the line opted to store its Zodiacs on the top deck. Cranes are needed to lower them down several decks into the water, which is a much more cumbersome process than simply dropping them into the water from a marina on a lower deck, and it’s possible rough waves make the process even more difficult.
One of my biggest goals for this sailing was to finally see the northern lights. Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful, but one of my fellow passengers was. He strolled into the ship’s Bow Lounge one night while I was up late working and went out onto the observation area to look for them. He mentioned they had been out in full force for several hours in the wee hours of the morning earlier that day, but no announcement ever came from the bridge.
Similarly, although there were some brief stops made for whale, polar bear and musk ox viewings, I was told by a few passengers that they spotted whales on several other occasions. There were no announcements made for those, either. When I asked some of the expedition staff why, the answers included “it wasn’t worth it” and “it was too late at night/early in the morning.”
One of the hallmark aspects of these types of sailings is the ability for expedition ships to stop what they’re doing and divert from the planned itinerary to chase wildlife when appropriate. It didn’t seem there was enough of that on this trip (and it wasn’t for lack of opportunities).
Seabourn continues to hold strong with the tradition of formal nights, meaning that, in addition to Gore-Tex clothing, hiking boots and base layers, passengers will also have to pack formal-night clothing into their luggage. Frankly, on an expedition cruise, the concept is ridiculous.
As you can see in the above photo from a cruise on a different sailing, I normally love to dress up for formal nights on ships — even the ones that have relaxed their policies in recent years. However, there’s nothing I’d rather do less after a day of cold-weather activities than don heels and taffeta and fuss over my hair and makeup.
In that vein, I heard several complaints from fellow travelers about the fact that there’s no true casual dining option on the ship at night. I was frustrated by it, too. If you don’t want to dress up or sit down for a two-hour meal, the only choice is room service. Not even the buffet venue is casual for dinner. (There is a small sushi menu available in The Club, one of the ship’s lounges, but it doesn’t feel quite right to be underdressed there, either.)
The crew isn’t super strict about the dress code, so I got away with black jeans and a nice top with a blazer, plus flats, on most nights. On others, though, I just couldn’t be bothered and ordered club sandwiches or pasta to my cabin. (The dining team also allows passengers to order from the main dining room menu for delivery.)
Seabourn is still getting its feet wet with regard to the world of expedition cruising, and I’m betting there will be some changes as a result of the lessons it has learned from this inaugural season.
Ultimately, Seabourn Venture is a terrific first iteration for the line’s expedition debut. Seabourn does luxury well. The ambiance, food, service and little touches are all as they should be, but some work is needed to bring the product in line with what luxury expedition ships from other lines are providing in terms of the expedition experience.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories: