Reaching extraordinary horizons with Seabourn

Seabourn is revered for itineraries that surprise and delight. Jon Ingleton asks Josh Leibowitz about stepping into the top end of the expedition sector and taking passengers to extraordinary places

Reaching extraordinary horizons with Seabourn
Seabourn’s expedition cruises offer guests the chance to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experience

Seabourn pioneered small-ship luxury cruising in the late 1980s and is still at the top of its game. The cruise line’s calendar had an expedition component long before it became a mainstream cruise segment. Its itineraries around the Arctic and South America, including forays into the Amazon and Antarctica, are iconic and uniquely memorable voyages.

Seabourn is now poised to step into the top end of the authentic expedition sector. “We’re very excited about the two polar-class expedition ships coming into the fleet which are going to be state-of-the-art, ultra-luxury vessels with the latest technology and toys, including two submarines onboard,” says Josh Leibowitz, the line’s president. “For explorers we have an amazing catalogue of expedition itineraries such as Antarctica and our recently announced ‘Norwegian Lights’ cruise, which will be the inaugural sailings for Seabourn Venture.”

Scheduled to launch in December 2021 with an eagerly anticipated inaugural voyage from the historic Royal Borough of Greenwich to the winter wonderland of the Norwegian coast, Seabourn Venture’s 12-day cruise calls at Alesund, Trondheim, Svolvaer, Andenes, Alta and Honningsvag, then concludes in Tromsø. In September the first steel was cut for Seabourn’s second, yet-to-be-named, new ultra-luxury expedition ship, due in 2022. Both ships have been designed and built to Polar Class 6 standards for expedition travel and have ultra-luxury interiors conceived by Adam Tihany.

While passengers eagerly await Venture’s delivery, Seabourn has a compelling selection to tempt prospective passengers. “We have an eclectic menu of vacation experiences for every consumer preference with our fleet of five luxury ships,” says Leibowitz. “And within two years we’ll be up to seven ships and be able to offer an even wider choice. Our guests will be able to look at our itinerary map and say ‘where do I want to go in the world?’ to find a cruise perfectly suited to their travel aspirations.”

The itinerary building process at Seabourn has changed over the years. “It used to be entirely the remit of the port operations and itinerary planning departments. Now it’s a much more collaborative endeavour, everyone has a voice – an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives,” says Leibowitz.

This open approach enables the company to showcase even more distinctive and unique itineraries. Leibowitz shares an anecdotal example: “When I joined Seabourn I spent a lot of time talking to our onboard teams, and during one conversation with a staff captain he said that he had mapped some idyllic spots for deployment. While our crew navigate around the world they spot extraordinary little places that are ideally suited to us, maybe just to drop anchor to let passengers get in and on the water.”

The human factor is key. “When several members of our team have been to a destination and agree that it’s a spectacular place, perfectly suited to Seabourn, we are especially motivated to include a call there on an itinerary,” says Leibowitz.

Seabourn also seeks expert options outside its own walls. “We track consumer trends, listen to our passengers and travel agency partners. We consume travel research and content fervently, like the terrific Cruise & Ferry Review!” says Leibowitz. “We spend a lot of time immersed in data with sophisticated modelling. Our guest surveys are an important component because they are the ultimate judge, providing us with essential intelligence about how ports, destinations, shore excursions and other activities performed as an itinerary collectively.”

Port selection is a serious business for a company with such high standards. “Our guests expect that the entire vacation experience with Seabourn will be a beacon of excellence–from the moment they leave their front door to the moment they return,” says Leibowitz. “So, when we look at a new destination, we always ask whether it can meet that high benchmark.”

Berth position is central to this dictate. “Being close to the soul of a destination has always been a paramount factor for us,” says Leibowitz. “Our guests expect a very personal and intimate experience with the places that we visit, and this comes through berthing in the heart of a destination. The selection of Greenwich as the starting point for Venture’s inaugural voyage came about from this ideal.”

Awareness of how cruisers select their vacation is an important consideration in the planning process.

“We’ve conducted a lot of research on this topic and mostly people are bound by a time frame or have specific destinations that they want to visit. We operate around the world and do our best to visit places at their seasonal peak to accommodate most preferences,” says Leibowitz. “And our guests know that they’re going to get access to some of the most exclusive places and they’re going to get closer to the city because we operate smaller ships – we have the ability to get to places that many other ships can’t reach, sometimes in very remote parts of the world.”

Like many passengers, Leibowitz also enjoys the natural break in a cruise that a day at sea affords. “I love sea days, waking up early to walk the quiet decks, or sleeping in and having a leisurely lunch then sitting out on the top deck and finishing a book. My favourite part of any ship is the back deck, where I can sit and look out at the wake of the ship and watch the trail. It’s usually a nice, secluded spot, with minimal wind and fresh air.”

Seabourn’s Mediterranean, Alaska and Northern European adventures are noteworthy voyages for the 2021 season.

“I highly recommend a Mediterranean cruise once a year. If you look at our deployment, we have achieved the perfect mix of iconic cities, Unesco World Heritage sites and lesser-known destinations and hideaways,” says Leibowitz. “Our Eastern Mediterranean cruises that venture around the Aegean and Adriatic are great examples. The departures from Venice and Piraeus (for Athens) mix marquee ports like Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Katakolon (Olympia), Rhodes and Santorini with lesser known gems like Zadar, Kotor, Brindisi, Bozcaada and Bodrum. These itineraries really elevate the small luxury cruise experience.”

However, Seabourn will always be associated with the best of Alaska and British Columbia. “We do a terrific job in Alaska – it’s an absolute staple,” says Leibowitz. “Capacity is limited for good reason. The Glacier National Park is one of those not-to-be-missed experiences of a lifetime, whatever your disposition is to cruise. The 14-day ‘Glacier Bay, Fjords and Canadian Inside Passage’ cruise, departing from Vancouver, is a captivating medley.”

Leibowitz has highlights elsewhere in the world too: “The natural beauty of Greenland and Iceland are an appealing option with Seabourn Quest. For spring 2022 we’re excited about going back to Egypt for the first time in a decade, with Seabourn Ovation calling at Safaga (Luxor) and Sharm el-Sheikh.”

But the best? “Seabourn Sojourn’s 2022 ‘Extraordinary Horizons’ itinerary promises to be an extraordinary journey across the globe, visiting many of the world’s most prized destinations. The unforgettable 145-day voyage calls at 72 ports in 28 countries, and guests can take the full cruise or join one of the many segments.”

Leibowitz is eager to point out that the success of a cruise is not just about the itinerary, or the ship. “One of the unique aspects of our product is our crew. They accompany our passengers as they travel the world and they’re responsible for turning great vacations into truly exceptional experiences. When I ask passengers for feedback after they’ve cruised with us, I often hear that the ship was great and the setting was extraordinary, but the crew made it all even better.”

Seabourn is primed to resume operations. “This has been a unique pause in the history of ocean travel, a pastime that has been a human trait for centuries. Our balance sheet is healthy, and we have engaged the world’s leading medical experts to support us in implementing protocols and procedures to keep our passengers and crew safe and healthy,” says Leibowitz.

And Seabourn guests are ready to explore the world again, too. “We’ve had a vacation from vacations, but the reality is that there’s a significant amount of pent-up demand. We have a need to rest and replenish and a desire to explore the world and to have fun with friends and family,” says Leibowitz. “And through this crisis we’ve seen a greater appreciation of the importance of tourism to economies, to well-being and to opening people’s hearts and minds to others.”

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
15 December 2020

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