Cruising with Seabourn Venice to Rome and Back September 2009
Sept 10th - 11th The drive from Tuscany to Venice was uneventful and took about 3 hours. Initially the highway curved through many long tunnels, some stretching for over a mile. We drove into Venice, turned in our Avis Rental Car and took a water taxi to our hotel, Locanda Orseolo, where we stayed in conjunction with our Croatian Cruise on the Wind Surf last September. It was as if we returned home. The staff is extremely warm and helpful. Even Romeo, who was just a puppy last year, seemed to remember us!
The weather in Venice was perfect and we enjoyed roaming around the city for two days, window shopping and people watching. We had two wonderful dinners at the same restaurant we enjoyed so much last year. The owner remembered us and was very welcoming.
Sept 12th We shared a water taxi to the ship terminal with another couple from Bermuda who are experienced travelers on Seabourn. They will be taking a 50+ day cruise from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on the Seabourn Odyssey in January.
Our cabin was much larger than those on the Wind Star vessels we have traveled on. The room had a large seating area with a sofa, table and two chairs. A large sliding glass door looked out over the sea. The bathroom was large with a tub, and we had a king sized bed and a walk in closet with lots of space.
We set sail at 5:00 PM for Hvar, Croatia. Our first dinner on the Seabourn Spirit was in small restaurant with outdoor seating where we were treated to a beautiful sunset. We skipped the entertainment and were sound asleep by 10:00 PM.
Sept 13th We enjoyed a quiet morning as the ship cruised to Hvar. It was very enjoyable to open our sliders to let in the fresh ocean air and listen to the waves lapping against the side of the Spirit. We visited this same area of Croatia last year and as we approached Hvar we passed many sailboats and yachts enjoying the perfect weather.
By afternoon the weather deteriorated and it started to rain lightly when we reached Hvar. We did walk around the city for several hours. I would have stayed on board, but Robi had not been to Croatia and had been crammed in my backpack since June when we were in Block Island. It turned out to be a pleasant excursion and brought back memories of our visit a year ago.
This is the first cruise we have been on which requests men to were a tux or dark suit on formal nights. This was our first formal night. I was not particularly looking forward to this aspect of Seabourn cruises, but actually it was very nice to see everyone dressed up and we enjoyed the evening. We were invited to join the Hotel Manager at his table and this gave us an opportunity to meet some of the other guests.
Sept 14th Our port today was Bari, Italy. It has a fun old city and we enjoyed wandering the residential streets. The locals were extremely friendly and we enjoyed (trying) talking to a young mother with her child, as well as her sister, mother and grandmother - four generations. We also had some quiet time in the city's beautiful Cathedral and the Basilica San Nicola where the remains of St Nicholas are interned. We skipped the "chocolate lovers indulgence" at 4:00 PM and instead soaked in one of the hot tubs overlooking the port and city.
Sept 15th This was a cruising day. We anchored for several hours just off a beautiful sandy beach at the very southern part of Italy. Those so inclined to participate in water sports riding on banana boats and paddle boats had a good time. We confined ourselves to the spa tub on the upper deck and caught up on our reading, etc.
The level of service on Seabourn is very high, but not nearly as pleasant for us as on the Wind Star cruises where most of the staff is Indonesian and Filipino. On Seabourn the staff is European and tend to be a bit more aggressive in their service attitude, Several times we did not receive what we had ordered, but when we complained the entire staff was obviously directed to be more attentive to our requests, almost to the point of being comical.
Each evening we have been invited to sit at a table being hosted by one of the ship's officers. This has turned out to be very interesting, All of the fellow passengers we have dined with have been interesting and very well traveled. Most are many time repeat Seabourn guests, many of whom have cruised for several hundred nights on Seabourn, and are obviously dedicated fans of the company.
Sept 16th Today's port was Taormina, Sicily which we had been looking forward to. Unfortunately the weather was horrible with heavy rains and rough seas, We decided to stay on board. Those that did venture ashore had a very difficult time re-boarding the ship from the tenders which were being tossed about in the rough seas. Our dinner host was the guest lecturer, an extremely interesting professor of Egyptian and Roman History. Eleanor found out she was seated next to a gentleman who spent his summers on Candlewood Isle where we live. In fact, the parents of his best childhood friend owned the house we now live in. Small World!
Sept 17th Lipari is a small island just north of Sicily. We enjoyed wandering along the main street during the morning and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on board the ship. We discovered an outdoor spa tub on the bow of the ship away from the more active spas and pool we had been using. During the evening at sunset we reached the Island of Stromboli which is an active volcano. The top of the volcano was cloud covered by the time we reached it and we only saw a very few mini eruptions glowing through the clouds.
The big event for me was finally seeing the "green flash" as the sun set on the horizon. To be honest, I really thought people were making the whole thing up, but low and behold as just as the sun dropped out of sight it flashed green - and I got a photo to boot!
Sept 18th Sorrento was much the same as we remembered it from visiting 10 or so years ago. It was crowded with tourists, but we still enjoyed a morning of strolling the streets.
Sept 19th This concluded our first week of the cruise. The ship docked in Civitavecchia which was about an hour and a half bus ride to Rome. Seabourn was charging $129 per person for the bus trip which we felt was too much. We had the ship to ourselves for most of the day which was very enjoyable. When we sailed away that evening the Queen Mary 2 (2,620 passengers) was moored near by, as was the Grand Princess (2,000 passengers). We were happy to be on the smaller Seabourn Spirit (208 passengers)!
Sept 20th & 21st On Sunday we anchored just off the city of Amalfi. It was as beautiful as we remembered when we were there about 10 years ago. The following day was sea. It rained most of the day, so Eleanor read and I worked on my photos.
Sept 22nd Corfu was our only stop in Greece, and it turned out to be one of our favorites on this cruise, It was scenic, pristine and fun to walk the streets and talk to the friendly merchants. Robi had a chance to get some fresh air, as this was his first time in Greece.
Sept 23rd Bari, Italy was the only port we stopped at on both weeks of our cruise. We took a tour to Aberobello where we saw a very interesting village of small homes with conical stone roofs called trulli (plural of a trullo). They are now protected by UNESCO.
Sept 24th We visited Korcula, Croatia; which claims to be the home port of Marco Polo, during our Windstar cruise last September, It is a very interesting city with its streets laid out in a herringbone pattern to take advantage of the ocean breezes. It is not a very large city, so after a short visit we relaxed on board the remainder of the day.
Sept 25th Rovinj, Croatia was a pleasant surprise. We had almost decided to stay on board for the day, but are glad we didn't. We stopped by several art and jewelry shops. Several of the owners shut down during the winter months, One couple have a home just outside of Boston.
Sept 26th Alas we were back in Venice and it was time to move on. We picked up a rental car and had an easy 2.5 hour drive to Varenna on the shores of Lake Como.
Some final comments re: Seabourn:
About half the passengers were British, Scottish and Irish. There were also quite a few Germans. Most seem to do most of their travel with Seabourn and many stay on board for a month or two at a time. They are affluent and enjoy dressing for dinner. On the formal nights most men wore tuxedos, and on other nights a sport coat and tie. I did not feel out of place wearing a sport jacket with an open collar shirt and a dark suit on the formal nights.
The physical comfort on board was noticeably better than on the Wind Star ships. The cabins are much larger and the common areas better laid out, The quality of food in the evening was about the same as on the Wind Star, but breakfast and lunch on the Wind Star we felt was better. The Spirit seemed to be a much more stable ship than the Wind Star vessels.
The big difference for us was the service which we felt was much smoother on Windstar. Many of the Seabourn regulars did not feel the service on this cruise was up to the usual standards. Seabourn is adding new ships which accommodate up to 600 passengers. Many of the better waiters have apparently been transferred to the Odyssey which is the first of these new vessels. The Sojourn will make its debut next year.
We met many pleasant couples who were fun to travel with.