Seabourn: Simply Luxurious

S Odyssey from above
Seabourn Odyssey from Fort Napoleon in Terre de Haut Guadeloupe

Along with Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Silversea, Seabourn rounds out the Big 4 in the luxury ocean cruise business. The defining features of these lines are inclusiveness (drinks, specialty dining and service charges are included), more space per passenger (both cabin and public spaces) and more service (staff to guest ratios are lower). Nearly all luxury ships have fewer than 1000 passengers which makes embarkation and disembarkation a far more pleasant experience. In fact, waiting in line is an uncommon experience. Wherever you go for a meal, there is likely a table waiting.

What makes Seabourn different from the others? The ships are somewhat smaller than Regent and Crystal. Wifi is not included. I suspect this will change as all the others include it or have announced it will be included shortly. Unlike Regent, no shore excursions are included. Like Regent and Silversea the ships are all suite and nearly all balcony.

First impressions

Seabourn, Carnival Corporation’s luxury brand, started as the Yachts of Seabourn but 10 years ago began premiering three modern mid-sized ships holding 450 passengers. Odyssey was the first of these ships and the ship still looks and smells fresh, though it is scheduled for a dry-dock in May. The last refurbishment was in 2017. Personally, I find the décor a bit bland, but it is classic and well put together. All the public rooms on the ship have generic names as well. I would suggest they use a little imagination to come up with more memorable monikers.

Seabourn Square
Seabourn Square

We waited about 10 minutes to check in…sitting in comfortable chairs in Seabourn Square on Deck 7 which offers the coffee bar, public computers, the library and the customer service area. Once we were done we walked up one deck to our V6 suite which is identical to the V1 to V5 suites except for location. We were greeted within a few minutes by Alvi our cabin attendant who made sure we knew that she was there to help. A bottle of champagne and a fruit plate awaited us.

Our Suite

The large bathroom featured two sinks, a bath tub and a shower. Convenient storage space was a bit disappointing and the shower could have been a bit larger with a better layout. There was a roomy walk-in closet with a safe and several drawers. The bedroom also had generous storage space. The suite could be divided in two with a blackout curtain. The queen bed had a variety of pillows to chose from, a LED reading spot and night stand with sufficient drawers and shelving. The TV was very small, but the entertainment and informational choices were many, including very recent movies – all complimentary. There was a small table, two club chairs and a love seat. The balcony had two adjustable chairs with ottomans, a side table and a small dining height table. Talking with one couple we heard that there were some technical issues with their suite so they were moved, but we heard of no other issues.

Dining

One of the differences that we found with Seabourn from other cruise lines including the luxury and premium lines is more limited dining hours. While room service is available 24 hours, the public dining and beverage venues have limited hours. My first reaction was to be annoyed that I could not get coffee until 615am and had to wait until 7am to get the full breakfast unless we ordered the night before. (Strangely they have no automated coffee machines.) On the other hand, the limited hours allowed the service to be concentrated so that the service staff could offer better attention. Also, limited dining hours likely avoided excessive waste, especially for buffets. For the most part meals are served during two-hour blocks – 7 to 9 for breakfast, noon to 2 for lunch and 7 to 9 for dinner.

There are 4 dining venues on the ship – The Colonnade, The Restaurant, The Grill by Thomas Keller and the Patio (called Earth & Ocean at dinner time). Continental Breakfast is available in Seabourn Square and the Observation Bar. Full Breakfast (buffet and table service) is offered in The Colonnade. Lunch is available on the Patio and the Colonnade (buffet and table service). Dinner is offered at all 4 venues with table service only.

Like most main dining rooms, The Restaurant has some standard items available plus four daily featured entrees and four starters. Earth and Ocean was our favorite venue because of the beautiful weather and some inventive menu options. It was open six of the seven nights and offered 3 unique entrees, 3 starters and 3 desserts. The Colonnade has themed dinners. The Grill by Thomas Keller offered classic American cuisine inspired by the 50s and 60s, when most guests were children.

I should mention the special barbeque lunch we had on St. Kitts at Carambola Beach. As an appetizer they served caviar and champagne from a surf board floating in the water. It was silly and fun. Then they had a big tent with a buffet featuring grilled lobster, ribs, hot dogs and much more. Very enjoyable!

Caviar and Champagne
Champagne and Caviar served from a surfboard!

Without going into detail, we found the food consistently well-prepared and imaginative. For those who are not adventurous, Earth and Ocean and the Colonnade may not have appealing choices at dinner. In fact, choices were more limited than on any of the other ships we’ve sailed on, but I’m not sure that is a such a bad thing. The ship published daily dinner menus delivered to the cabin the night before.

Entertainment

The Odyssey had the most enjoyable entertainment of any small ship we had sailed on. If you like big hits and broadway retrospectives, you may not enjoy it as much as we did. The 3 productions shows featured 4 fine singers and two athletic and graceful dancers. While each show offered a few familiar songs, most were new to me. The theme were Italia, Tim Rice and Latin Rhythms. The 5 piece band were solid and unfortunately backed by pre-recorded tracks for some numbers. The singers were very versatile offering everything from pop opera to soul. And their harmonies were excellent…to me that is the rarest thing.

The ship had a bluesy female singer who performed with a trio, but we saw her only once. There were some fun pool deck shows during the week. They had a singer / comedian and a magician sailing with us as well. Many guests enjoyed their performances. There was also a guest lecturer with us who talked about the history of the Caribbean, Columbus and Pirates. We enjoyed his presentations.

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Service & Staff

We found the service to be the area where Seabourn exceeded expectations most. They anticipated your needs, especially in cabin service. All the staff were extremely professional and personable, often taking the time to share life experiences. This is only possible with a low staff to guest ratio.

One story will illustrate the high level of service. Good quality fruit sometimes hides secrets. It is unavoidable. Donna found a raspberry with a worm that must have died during refrigeration. It was on the fresh fruit plate left in the suite on the second day. We left that berry on a napkin before leaving for dinner. When we got back to the suite, there was a letter of apology, a bottle of red wine, chocolate covered strawberries and a chocolate high-heeled boot. Now that is service!

We were invited to two dinners with staff members and a tour of the bridge with the captain. In addition, at the farewell event we spent a good amount of time with the Hotel Manager. This was not because we are travel agents. Apparently, everyone is invited to the dinners and tours. Our dinners were with the Staff Captain (from Bulgaria) and with the Destination Manager (South Africa) and his assistant (the US!). There were two or three other couples at the tables as well. The primary purpose of these dinners was for the staff to ensure that we were having a good time. Everyone on the staff wanted to know if we had any issues and had a positive attitude if we brought something up. What struck me was their confidence that whatever problems we had, they would be able to solve them. Meeting the Hotel Manager on the last night we found out why. He was from Austria and had worked at the Ritz Carlton. He was very proud of his staff and supportive. Excellent service starts at the top. A staff that is treated well passes their positive attitude on to the guests.

Other Services

Odyssey-Sea Cloud
Next to the Sea Cloud in Antigua

We mostly relaxed on this cruise. Living near a beach, the Caribbean has limited appeal to us. So the only shore excursion we did was the transfer-tour in Barbados before our late afternoon flight. It was very enjoyable and a good value. Otherwise, we wandered around on our own.

The casino was small with perhaps a dozen machines and three tables. On our cruise which stopped at different islands every day, hours of operation were very limited.

One of our new friends had a spa treatment (a special offer that was not as expensive as I would expect) and said she really enjoyed it. I used the workout room several times which were nicely appointed. They offered cardio events and yoga.

We participated in daily trivia with friends which was hosted by the Cruise Director and his assistant. The daily schedule was what you would expect on a luxury ship – not a lot of guest participation games. I was not disappointed!

Conclusions

One thing we especially enjoyed were the new friends we met. Many were Seabourn loyalists. They seemed to have long standing relationships with some members of the staff. While we took the 7-night one-way cruise, most people we talked to seemed to be doing 14-night round-trips.

The dress code in the evening applied to all public venues and was what they called smart casual – which meant no blue jeans or shorts. My tan jeans and any collared shirt were acceptable. There was one formal night, but there were some guests who dressed up for dinner on other nights. I wore my suit twice but had forgotten to bring a tie…it wasn’t an issue.

Seabourn is a bit different from the other luxury and premium lines I have sailed on. They focus on the fundamentals of service and quality. And they plan activities in a way that ensures they have the staff to do everything exceptionally well. Mostly they keep things simple. Other lines are more ambitious perhaps, but the Seabourn approach works exceptionally well.

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Oahu – The Meeting Place

Our cruise began and ended in Honolulu which is the only city of significant size in the state of Hawaii. We spent one night before the cruise and one night afterward at Hotel Renew which is one half block from Waikiki Beach just behind the Aston and across the street from the Marriott Resort. This boutique hotel features a continental breakfast, excellent service and newly renovated rooms.

waikiki pink donna
The Royal Hawaiian aka Pink Palace on Waikiki (photo by Donna)

Waikiki is a small arc of beach on the south side of Oahu that offers small waves, classic hotels, international shopping, parks and the zoo. Our hotel was one block from the Zoo and Sans Souci State Park (see the banner of the sunset from the park above) on the beach. It is about 3 blocks from the major shopping offered along Kalakaua Avenue which is the main road along the beach. Walking across the street to the beach and facing right (northwest) we saw the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (Pink Palace) and the Moana Surfrider, the first two hotels built in the area. Looking to the left (south) we saw Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater. And behind us were the urban canyons of Waikiki.

Waikiki is a small part of the Honolulu, a metropolitan area of almost one million that stretches from Pearl Harbor, the massive lagoon in the west to the eastern slope of Diamond Head. We came in early December which is a slow season when prices are lower and the beaches are less crowded. I am not a lover of urban sprawl, but Waikiki was nice for a short visit with it’s cultural mix and mountainous backdrop.

We enjoyed some time people watching on the beach at sunset on two nights. We did some shopping. We had a nice Japanese noodle bowl for lunch one day in the Yokocho Gourmet Alley, next to Victoria’s Secret on Kalakaua Avenue. There were more than a dozen Japanese eateries in the small mall.

We took the city tour with a stop at Pearl Harbor on our first full day in the islands with Roberts of Hawaii, an employee owned company that is one of the state’s largest tour operators. (On Maui we booked through Shore Excursions Group and toured with Roberts and on Kauai we booked with Norwegian and were on a Roberts tour.) The personalities of the Roberts staff are front and center which can be bad or good and often both. Our guide in Honolulu was interesting and extremely knowledgeable. However, his main theme seemed to be how hard it was to make a living on the expensive island of Oahu. It is understandable, since so many people fail to tip their guides. (We generally offer $10 per person for a full day tour and $5 for a half day. Of course, it depends on the quality of the guide and the type of tour.)

The rainy morning was spent driving by monuments and historical building in and around central Honolulu. The sites we saw were National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the State Capitol, the Iolani Palace and other places in historic district of the city. It was hard to appreciate in the rain, but it cleared by the time we got to Pearl Harbor. Still it was windy so we were not able to take the boat over to the Arizona Memorial. The highlight of our visit was the short film describing the attack. There were two small museums, memorials and more in the park which made the trip worthwhile.

After our week long cruise, we checked back into the hotel and enjoyed the day window shopping, looking at the hotels and watching our second sunset on the beach. We saw three hotels that are right on the beach. The Royal Hawaiian, the Moana Surfrider and the Hilton Hawaiian Village. If you want a big resort, the Hilton is an amazing facility. The other two are the classic Waikiki hotels which have been purchased by large chains and nicely maintained.

We rented a car at a downtown rental agency and drove up to the Diamond Head park without sufficient planning. We hoped to have a view of the city, but the hike out of the crater takes about 2 or more hours. So we got to see the crater (with it’s small military base). Outside the tunnel entrance is a great viewing point for seeing the eastern suburbs of Honolulu.

Our plan was to follow the route of the Circle Island tours on our own. A key to doing this sort of thing is good planning and we could have done better in that regard. Nonetheless we had a fun ride. The most scenic shoreline was during our morning drive up the east coast of Oahu. Between Kahala just east of Honolulu and Kailua the mountainous and rocky coast offers great vistas and isolated sand beaches below volcanic rock cliffs. The road turns inland at Kaneohe before a long more isolated stretch of coastal highway leading to the north point. The Polynesian Cultural Center, a popular theme park, is in the small town of Laie.

east beach
Near Blowing Hole on the Eastern shore of Oahu

One thing we noticed throughout the islands is the proliferation of food trucks and near the north tip of Oahu are some of the most popular, offering fresh garlic shrimp. Since we arrived too early we did not stop for lunch, but there were lines waiting at most of the trucks. After a southwestward turn at Turtle Bay resort area, we entered the coastal area world-renowned for big waves. And shear luck found us there on the day of the Billabong Pipe Competition. And even luckier, a car pulled out of a parking spot only a short walk from the Banzai Pipe Beach area.

We didn’t stay that long because of time constraints but it was pretty incredible to see the waves and the crowd. We got better pictures of the coastal drama at Waimea Beach Park. We stopped for lunch at the laid back town of Haleiwa which was not so laid back that day because of an invasion of uniformed Asian teenagers. I had shrimp and grits (actually polenta) and the shrimp was the tenderest I’ve ever tasted. From Haleiwa we could see the western mountains of Oahu and headed south through the central valley. This was the homeland of Dole pineapple which offers tours but no longer exports local pineapples because of labor and shipping costs.

The central valley highway splits near Pearl Harbor. Instead of going back to Honolulu in the east we headed west and visited the quiet west side of the island. The waves here were not like in the north, but were still impressive. This was the poorest area we visited. We were surprised to see homeless people living on the windy beach. The encampments looked like they had been there a while. As on Kauai and the Big Island, the windward (western) side of the island was semi-arid and less verdant than the eastern leeward side. We turned around at Ma’ili Point and drove back to Waikiki to pick up our luggage for the flight home.

 

Kaua’i – The Garden Isle

With only 7 consonants and 5 vowels, the Hawaiian language is filled with vowel heavy words, such as the name of the smallest of Hawai’i’s big four islands. The name contains two important features which make the limited alphabet versatile – the dipthong and the glottal stop. As is common in English, the A and U merge into one dipthong of AH-OO or OW as in cow. Then the second AH. That apostrophe which often left out represents the glottal stop or full break between vowel sounds. I is pronounced EE so the proper pronunciation is KOW-AH-(break)-EE. It takes some practice.

We had two wonderful days on Kaua’i and saw a lot of the shoreline and some parts of the interior. Our first day I surprised Donna by renting a Mustang convertible as part of our 30th Anniversary celebration. It was a great place to have the top down! The ship docked just after sunrise in Nawiliwili, a small bay with a dramatic ridge line to the south. It is only a few miles from the local airport and the major car rental companies offer shuttles.

We first headed to Po’ipu on the southern coast of the island. This volcanic coast is relatively flat, but with small volcanic hills which were the site of the island’s most recent volcanic activity (now extinct). This is one of the most popular beach and vacation areas offering somewhat calmer waters and dramatic beaches including the famous Blowing Hole State Park. The drive into town includes the Tree Tunnel of Eucalyptus, the old Sugar Mill in the middle of what were once fields of sugarcane and some mysterious small structures made of volcanic rocks by pre-historic Hawaiians. The locals often say these were built by the Menehune, a legendary group of pre-Polynesians who were said to be small in stature. There is no physical evidence that they actually existed. Beside several nice state parks on the coast, the area has impressive vacation homes and beach front resorts and golf clubs.

Driving further west the foliage changed fairly quickly from jungle to semi-arid as we moved toward the windward west side of the island. Along the coast is a large coffee plantation and the remains of a Russian fort which was part of that nation’s effort to colonize the islands in the early 19th century. There were fields of grasses and some large empty beaches near the southwest corner of the island. In the distance is Hawai’i’s seventh largest island, Ni’ihau (population 130) which is closed to tourism.

We turned around at Kekaha because we wanted to make sure we had enough time to make it to the north part of the island.  The road continues along the sparsely populated western coast.

The most popular tourist area on the island is the eastern coast. This was also where the pre-US native population was centered along a large coastal plain that is still one of largest agricultural areas of the Hawaii islands. The rocky coast offers many sandy beaches with significant waves. On our way back to the ship we had dinner in Ka’apa at one of the island’s top rated restaurants, JO2 Natural Cuisine. No island views, but the food was wonderful.

 

The North coast is has some of the most exclusive and remote resorts such as Princeville which is next to the dramatic Hanalei Bay. I will just offer pictures of this area, since I think they do it more justice than I can with words.

rice fields near hanalei
Rice fields near Princeville

The second day we took a cruise line shore excursion to the Waimea Canyon which appropriately nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The tour was worth the cost and comfortable. Again pictures say all that needs to be said.

Both Donna and I liked Kauai best of the four islands we visited.

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Chickens and Trees

Kauai is famous for it’s feral chicken with the colorful and ubiquitous roosters. They are everywhere, including on Kauai t-shirts.

kauai rooster

The fast-growing and invasive Albazia trees have taken over certain parts of the island. They are so striking it is hard to regret them. (sorry no pictures!)

Attractions we missed:

Fern Grotto – Since flooding in the 90s and and an earthquake in the 00s it has been less accessible with viewing only available from a viewing platform. There are still companies offering boats on the Wailua River to the cavern.

Na Pali Shores – Kauai’s most iconic view can only be seen by boat or by air. For some reason, recent cruises on Pride of America have not sailed to the north side of the island to see this view. Seen in many movies including South Pacific and Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford.

Jurassic Park – An inland area accessible by helicopter where some of the movie was filmed. It is a jungle area near what is considered the wettest place on early with over 400 inches of annual rain.

 

Hawai’i – Big Island

The island of Hawaii has 63% of the state’s land mass and 13% of it’s population. It was also where King Kamehameha started his campaign to unite the islands in the 18th century. And it is the location of nearly all current volcanic activity including Kilauea which has been continuously erupting since 1983 and recently had major eruptions which destroyed roads and buildings and rolled into the Pacific expanding the size of the island. When we arrived in early December, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park had recently reopened to visitors though tours were not going near the areas of recent activity.

king kamehameha

For that reason we decided not to do the Volcano tour and instead stayed in Hilo, a rustic town on the leeward (east) side of the island and the most populous city with about one-third of the island’s population.

In both Hilo and Kona local companies offer hop-on, hop-off tours that go to local attractions, beaches and shopping areas. The driver gives a basic explanation of what you see along the way. At $20 a per person, these are a good value for getting a basic introduction and an inexpensive way to get to and from the ship and spend time in the areas you want.

After our long day on Maui riding down Haleakala, Donna and I took it easy in Hilo. We just did the tour. The highlights were Rainbow Falls on the edge of town, the King Kamehameha statue which is a duplicate of the one in the Capitol in Washington and the two mongooses we saw from the bus. They looked like ferrets. (Mongoose were brought to the islands to help control the rat population. It didn’t help because mongoose are active during the day and rats come out at night. So now Hawai’i has both.)

rainbow falls
Rainbow Falls in Hilo

The city has a wonderful Farmer’s Market near the center of town and several small museums including an interesting one dedicated to tsunamis which have had an out-sized impact on Hawaii. (We did not visit these attractions on our lazy day. )

hilo sunset
Sunset in Hilo

After a day in Hilo, we sailed around the north coast of the island to make our way to Kona on the windward (west) side. Kona is actually the district where the ship anchored. The name of the small city where we tendered is Kailua-Kona. It is at the center of the most popular resort area on the island. It is also the most historic city with the oldest church (Mokuaikaua Church) and the local palace (Hulihee Palace).

The volcanic beaches in the area were very scenic and quiet. (Late Fall is a short slow season for the islands.)

From both Hilo and Kona gradual slopes lead up to the rounded peaks of Mauna Kea from Hilo and Hualalai from Kona. As is typical on the islands, the windward side has semi-arid scrub terrain, while the leeward side is more tropical. Looking at the grassy slopes in Kona, you understand why this is the location of Parker Ranch, one of the US’s largest cattle ranches.

Hawaii had a lot that we missed on our two days there. We’ll have to go back.

 

Maui: Mountains and Valleys

Maui is called the Valley Isle because it two mountainous ovals connected by a valley isthmus where much of the local population lives. The smaller western side of the island is a range of old extinct volcanoes with sharp and dramatically furrowed peaks. On the eastern side the massive and dormant Haleakala volcano (10,026 feet) dominates. As is common in Hawaii, these peaks were hidden in clouds most of the time we were there.

Ships dock on the north shore of the central valley at Kahului, the island’s largest city and the location of the main airport. Sailing in we got our first glimpse of the large waves typical of Hawaii’s north shores.

On the first day of our tour we took a tour with Robert’s Hawaii, one of the islands largest independent tour and transportation companies which prides itself on being employee owned and operated. The tour was titled Iao Valley & Maui Tropical Plantation Tram and took us into the center of the mountainous western side of the island to see the dramatic scenery and the Iao (MEOW without the M) Needle.

Then we visited a former pineapple plantation house which offers tours explaining the agricultural history of the island. Because of Hawaii’s geographical isolation and the cost of labor, agriculture has declined precipitously with local sugar and pineapple production nearly eliminated. Only coffee for the upscale market has retained a significant export market. Most packages of Kona coffee contain 10-20% local product blended with less expensive import beans. The valley of Maui was once filled with plantations, but is now mostly abandoned fields and an impressive sugar mill rusting in the middle.

On the second day in Maui we planned a trip I had dreamed about since I worked at Certified Vacations in the 1990s – the Haleakala Sunrise and Downhill bike ride. We used the local company Mountain Riders for this excursion. We had to get up at 2am and meet their bus at 245. Since we had just left Florida a few days before, it was not as hard as it otherwise would have been.

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The trip is really two separate experiences. First you watch the sunrise from near the peak of the volcano. Second you ride the bikes 26 miles from 6500 feet up to the beach. Their documentation strongly suggests multiple layers of warm clothing for this experience and still one guy showed up in shorts. Be warned, at 10,000 feet the temperature could be freezing and the wind the morning we were there was about 20 MPH, so I was very glad to be wearing boots, wool socks, t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, a hoodie sweat shirt plus baseball cap and the thermal jacket they provided. Gloves would have been nice. It was considerably warmer at 6500 feet, but you speed down the mountain pretty fast so it took a while before I shed any layers. It was all an amazing visual experience that lived up to my anticipation.

Halfway down the Volcano

Mountain Riders did an excellent job and got us to the peak early for the best viewing spots. The staff was very friendly and careful about our safety. While it is OK for guides to mention tipping since some people do not realize that you should tip your guides, Donna and I felt the suggested amount was too much. One other warning…the drive up the mountain in the dark was uncomfortable for some of us because of the motion. I was a little queasy when we got to the top, but the cool fresh air helped me get over it!

Paia Beach Body surfing
Paia Beach Body surfing

We did not visit the resort areas of Wailea-Kihue (in the south) or Lahaina-Ka’anapali (in the west). And the only beach we walked on was at the end of our bike ride in Paia. And we didn’t eat at any local restaurants, two of which made it on this year’s top 25 restaurants in the US according to TripAdvisor. They are Mama’s in Paia and Lahaina Grill in Lahaina.

Still I can see why Maui is the most popular place to stay in the islands. The variety and quality of activities available is impressive!

 

 

Celebrity Edge – Magic Carpet

Some cruise lines focus on tried and true formulas that they know will satisfy cruisers. Celebrity, like its sister line – Royal Caribbean, periodically has sought a big leap into the future creating new designs and concepts. Celebrity Edge is such a leap. Prior to the inaugural cruise Celebrity invited travel professionals to experience the new ship with executives from the line, including president Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, onboard to answer questions. (Celebrity plans 3 more ships in the Edge class in the next few years.)

Working with many designers from outside the cruise field, they aimed to create a ship template that defied expectations. To a large degree they have done that with mostly exciting results and only a few misses.

Our two night cruise allowed us to get an overall impression of the ship, though I know that I missed quite a bit. I will try to give you a few snapshots that will help you decide if this ship is for you.

First Impressions

Of course, the first thing you notice is the bright orange lift on the side of the ship with the spaceship-like Magic Carpet. Based on the title it is given you would think that the opportunity to ride up and down the side of the ship would be offered. However, since it passes in front of cabins, the MC is empty when it is in motion. It has three stopping points: Deck 2 where it can be used as a tender platform, Deck 5 where it becomes an outdoor patio for the restaurant/bar Raw on 5 and Deck 14 where it becomes an extended pool bar. It seats up to 100. It’s very cool, but not terribly functional.

Prior to boarding the ship, guests are invited to download the Celebrity Edge App which is not your standard cruise ship app. Beside accessing the schedule for activities and the deck plan, the app allows you to open your cabin door, turn off and on the lights, close the window shade and adjust the temperature. You can message friends once you hook up to the ship wifi and you can make dinner reservations. I’m sure I’ve left out functions I did not find. Connecting to a friend is an overly complicated process that will stop many from using the messaging function.

My cabin was called an Infinite Veranda. While I could not figure out what was infinite about it, I have to say it was my favorite standard cabin of any ship I’ve been on. What set it apart was the balcony which was part of the room when not set up as an outdoor space. The top half of the floor to ceiling window lowers to let in the view and fresh air. Behind the deck chairs and table there are folding windows which can separate it from the cabin. At night an electronic shade blocks any light that might disrupt your sleep.

The room itself has more drawers and other storage than any other standard cabin I’ve seen. There are 4 USB ports along with various plugs. One side of the bed does not have these but the other does. The bath room has a roomy shower, drawer and shelf space and is much roomier than other standard bathrooms I’ve seen on a large ship. There is a fancy electronic control inside the door for the thermostat, lighting and window shade. The large wall-mounted TV has streaming movies and broadcast TV along with ship-oriented taped programming.

I toured the other cabins, including the new single balcony cabin which was a slightly smaller version of our Infinite Veranda Cabin. Suites were interesting and varied.

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Public Spaces

Perhaps the most unique space on the Edge is Eden, a multistory bar / deli / gathering area with a wrap around aft facing windows. The room is filled with plants and panels in green and blue. It is clearly a fun place to get together offering great views.

I am going to let pictures of the other public spaces speak for themselves.

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Food

Naturally the Garden Cafe was open and buzzing when we boarded and the design and functionality of the room was impressive. The central food court has numerous islands for salads, desserts, carving station, bread, ethnic cuisines and much more. And the openness invited you to go where you wanted rather than line up and wait. One side of the dining area offered two story windows. Beside a disappointingly small al fresco area, the main buffet restaurant was wonderful. My favorite items from the menu was the wonderfully spicy Indian cuisine.

The Edge does not have a Main Dining Room, but instead has 4 featuring American, Greek, Italian and French cuisines. Most items on each menu are the same, but each has featured items matching the style of the cuisine. For Suite guests on the Edge, Luminae is offered and for Aquaclass there is Blu like on all Celebrity’s ships.

We ate at Cosmopolitan and Cyprus and found to food generally very good. The one disappointment was overcooked salmon.

The dining options, which have always been numerous on Celebrity ships, are wonderfully varied on the ship. We didn’t eat there so I can’t attest to the quality, but Celebrity usually delivers when it comes to food.

Entertainment

Honestly I did not participate much. I missed the shows. Friends told me that the first night was so-so (Hot Summer Nights Dream), but the second night was excellent (Hype). The Theater is 2/3rd round with a huge screen wrapping around the stage. There was all all-women pop band that I enjoyed that played in the Grand Plaza / Martini Bar area. Eden offered some unusual choices such as performers dressed as fantasy animals interacting with the audience and a presentation about the Fibonacci series (look it up). One challenge was finding that event. For some reason the App was not giving the correct times or locations. Several times I went to see some entertainment and couldn’t find it. Hype was supposed to start at 9pm but the Theater was empty. Maybe it was me!

Service

It is a bit hard to judge if the service we received will be reflected when paying guests sail on Edge. Our sales representative told us there were about 1200 guests on the ship which can accommodate almost 3000. He also said that maximum capacity would be ramped up slowly during the first cruises as the crew adjusted to the new ship. So the first cruises would only have limited passenger numbers. This seems wise as there were a few small issues in our cabin. There was no water in the toilet initially though this was corrected quickly when reported to our cabin attendant.

When we tried to set up dining for 7 at 730 during the cruise, the main dining rooms all told us that was not possible as there were too many early diners and late diners with reservations already. We were able to get a table at the Cosmopolitan when we just showed up. We were all a bit concerned how this would work when the ship was at full occupancy.

However, the staff on the Edge was extremely friendly and accommodating with special Kudos going to my stateroom attendant and to Carlos from Honduras who was our head waiter in Cyprus.

Other comments on Celebrity

During the Executive presentation in the Theater Celebrity’s President Lisa Lutoff-Perlo spoke about the lines efforts to limit environmental impact and create a more diverse workplace.

One of the first things we noticed was the aluminum water bottles. Lutoff-Perlo explained these were the most recyclable option and the use of plastic on the new ship had been ended, including straws. There is an ongoing effort to reduce landfill waste as much as possible.

After the Magic Carpet, the second thing you notice from shore is the shape of the bow which does not have the traditional point but drops down straight into the waves. Apparently this design is more fuel efficient. A similar design has been adopted for Virgin cruises first ship.

Also announced was the hiring of Celebrity’s third female ship captain, a truly stunning achievement. Lutoff-Perlo also noted they were hiring from the country of Ghana where their efforts had helped certify the Ghana maritime school for international crews. Inclusivity for Celebrity goes beyond gender clearly.

They also spoke of improving crew quarters and facilities on the new ship.

The message was that Celebrity looked beyond the passenger experience to their impact on the earth and on their employees. Celebrity wants to be seen as a good global partner.

Pride of America: The All-American Cruise

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Docked in Nawiliwili, Kaua’i

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America is unique. It was the only American flagged large cruise ship in almost 50 years in 2005 when it first sailed. That allows the ship to sail within the islands without leaving the US. US employment rules also mean that three-quarters of the ship crew have to be American and follow US and Hawaiian labor rules which are much stricter than for other international ships.

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Docked in Kahului, Maui

On the other hand, what the ship has going for it was Hawaii. The tight-knit archipelago allows the ship to be docked for over 90 hours total on Maui, the Big Island and Kauai during a week of travel. Week-long Caribbean cruises often have as little as 25-40 hours in port. POA overnights in Maui and Kauai and stops in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island. This schedule gives travelers a lot of flexibility to experience the islands.

In its first years, Norwegian struggled to provide a satisfying ship-board experience for cruise guests on Pride of America. The most common complaints in reviews and from my clients were poor service and maintenance of the ship. For that reason, I had lowered expectations.

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Our wonderful 23-year-old Teppanyaki chef from Omaha!

As it turned out, I didn’t need to. The Hawaii cruise on Pride of America far exceeded my expectations.

The Ship

The ship looked great. It has been almost two years since the ship was last refurbished and you would never know it. I did not see any major wear and tear. Our cabin smelled fresh as did the halls and other public spaces on the ship. There was continuous cleaning and maintenance going on and the result was impressive.

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As far as design, it was intentionally low brow and primarily all-American. The color palette was not the bland grays and beiges of many newly renovated ships and personally I found that refreshing to have the richer colors and dark woods. The signature room for me was the Liberty Dining Room. On our last night we sat under a picture of Frederick Douglass, a nice addition to paintings of the Founding Fathers.

On several public decks there is only one passageway for moving from one end of the ship to the other. This made movement through the ship slow at times of heavy traffic.

The Crew

Something has clearly changed in the hiring and training of staff for the ship. I suspect that you can read hundreds of reviews of poor service on the Pride of America on websites. Many of these are years old. Our experience last week was nothing like that.

The crew who assisted us were universally friendly and helpful. Now and then they were a bit confused and unknowledgeable, but I can tolerate that if the person has a positive attitude and is willing to help.

Beside being mostly American, the crew was also younger on average than other ships. What they lacked in experience they made up for in positive attitude.

Food

Just like the service, it was better than I thought it would be. There was only one stand-out dish that I can rave about – the Bouillabaisse in Jefferson’s Bistro – but there were no menu failures either. We ate at the Teppanyaki Grill, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Jefferson’s, the Liberty Dining Room (serves the same menu as the Skyline Dining Room) and the Aloha Café (Buffet).

The Buffet has many beverage stations which minimized waiting to get a cup of coffee. The seating was in short supply occasionally as is common on many larger ships. And the outside deck off the back of the ship was not ready before 7am when I like to sit outside with a cup of coffee. But the options at breakfast and lunch were varied and tasty.

The only food category that did not live up to expectations was bread. In particular, the French bread was generally dried out. But considering the quality of everything else, I can live with that.

Cabin

Standard cabins on the Pride of America are narrow. And the bathrooms are claustrophobic as is typical of large cruise ships. There was enough storage for a 7-day cruise if you don’t overpack. The bed was comfortable and almost king size. It could be split into twins if the husband’s snoring proved intolerable.

The TV system was poor with two movie channels but no schedule for when the movies were playing. Beside a proliferation of cruise information channels, we were limited to 4 or 5 news channels and a few sports channels. There were pay-per-view movies for $10.

Entertainment

The ship production shows were the most disappointing aspect of the cruise. I am not a fan of the Broadway and Vegas style shows of many ships. But these were worse than average. I was disappointed that they did not have a production show with local Hawaiian musicians and dancers. (They did have a group performing on the ship atrium when we boarded – see pictures.) The magician was good. The comedian (who has been working on Norwegian for 20 years) was excellent.

We did not participate in the onboard activities though they seemed to have a full complement of participatory games and competitions. Because the ship is docked so much, the shipboard entertainment was far less important to us than normal. I suspect many others felt the same.

Conclusions

I recommend this cruise to those visiting Hawaii. It is a great way to see the major islands on a budget. On a per day basis, the Pride of America costs more than your average cruise. But it is worth it.

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Gingerbread houses

(I will talk about the shore excursion experience on separate blog posts about Maui, the Big Island and Kauai.)

One month before sailing on the Pride of America, we had sailed on the near-luxury Viking Star. I was worried that experience color our Hawaii cruise experience. In fact, the Pride of America did quite well by comparison. The Viking Star has a guest to space ratio of 52 while POA has only 31. It didn’t feel like that most of the time. Perhaps this was because there were few children filling the 3rd and 4th beds in the cabins.

Norwegian’s Pride of America offers the only 7-day all-Hawaii cruises. All other Hawaii cruises have many days at sea sailing from other continents. So even for those accustomed to luxury, the POA is worth considering as a cruise option.