Ship Review: Outstanding Seabourn Ovation
“Does the word sexy mean anything to you?” Noted hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany can’t contain himself. The word “sexy” clearly means something to him, and he’s about to use it to describe the 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation, a new ultra-luxury ship he’s designed from bow to stern, with smooth corners and a yacht-like appeal.
“If you ask that to some people they might be embarrassed,” he says, “but to me it just means very tactile. Everything you touch feels nice. We wanted this to feel like a beautiful private yacht, not like a ship.”
Seabourn Ovation Ship Review
We are on a preview of Seabourn’s newest ship, a sister ship to the award-winning Seabourn Encore. Heading out of the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa on the way to Venice, our sailing includes just one port of call, in Montenegro, docking right in the city of Kotor. Even though this is one of the line’s largest ships, it’s still small enough to fit into dreamy, smaller ports that some larger ships can’t.
For Ovation, Tihany tweaked the design, but just a little. It’s just enough of a change from Encore to wow both newbies and those who have already sailed, which is a good thing since about half the guests on any given Seabourn cruise are repeat passengers.
The most obvious update is its stunning art collection. Curated by London-based ArtLink, Ovation’s collection is 1,600 pieces strong and represents the work of 120 emerging artists from around the world. Themes include different climate zones, flora and fauna, habitats, and the world as seen by imaginary travelers. And it’s not just paintings. There are sculptures, ceramics, and glassworks, many cleverly paired so your eye wanders from flat to 3-D.
The ship’s double helix staircase will leave design fans gasping. It’s simply stunning, especially when viewed from the top. Tihany says he was inspired by classic Busby Berkeley movies. The space is designed to “dazzle and amaze,” the designer says. Even if you’re in your flip-flops walking down the blue-carpeted steps, you’ll feel grand.
At the bottom, outside the open-seating main dining room simply called The Restaurant, is an eye-catching sea-green Murano glass work by sculptor Luciano Vistosi. Taking a selfie in front of this piece just seems necessary, especially if you’re dressed up in your fanciest duds for a formal night.
Ovation (like Encore) is a deck larger than Seabourn’s 450-passenger Odyssey-class ships. With the extra space, Tihany had room to play. Everyone stays in a spacious oceanfront suite with a glass door leading to a private veranda. There’s a walk-in closet and sparkling marble bathroom with a shower, tub, and botanical Molton Brown bath products developed specially for Seabourn, plus a complimentary minibar stocked with your favorite premium beverages; if you run out of sauvignon blanc, just ask for more. In the top categories, Wintergarden Suite guests lounge in their own glass-enclosed solarium with tub and daybed. In the Signature Suites, there’s as much room to play indoors as out, with extraordinarily large verandas.
The pool area is already as plush as you’d find at any top-end resort, and the preferred spot for socializing on a warm day. But Tihany went beyond, adding The Retreat, where guests who want even more of a good thing can rent a fancy private cabana. Built around a large hot tub, these shaded open-air spaces are equipped with a daybed, TV, dining area, and minibar, with an attendant assigned to cater to your every whim, including pours of Bollinger Champagne and helpings of Sterling Caviar. “Exclusivity is a very sexy commodity, as you know,” Tihany says.
The designer isn’t the only person at the top of his field who has leant their talents to making Ovation a winner. America’s top chef Thomas Keller (chef and proprietor of The French Laundry restaurant) has an eponymous grill aboard and some of his recipes are also featured in The Restaurant. Lyricist extraordinaire Sir Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King) created a new “An Evening with Tim Rice” show production for the ship, with performers doing songs from his hit musicals. He also appears on stage in hologram form to share the backstories, such as what it was like to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Elton John.
Passengers in settings such as The Club and the Observation Lounge, both with an updated contemporary look, can sip drinks created by celebrity mixologist Brian van Flandern. During the day, they might listen to lectures by a host of authors, diplomats, and other luminaries as part of the line’s extraordinary Seabourn Conversations enrichment program. Or they might participate in activities like trivia, which is a competitive sport of sorts on Seabourn’s ships.
Yes, there’s a lot of name-dropping, but having programs by a star-studded roster is not just about bragging rights; it enhances the onboard atmosphere.
Focus on Wellness
At the spa, you can indulge in a mindfulness program created by wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil. The must-do is a Crystal Sound Bath, where you lie on a yoga mat, snuggled in a blanket and with your eyes covered, and listen to the sounds produced when a therapist rubs soft mallets on amethyst crystal bowls. You feel the hums in your inner core. You may find your chakra balancing, or you may snooze. Either way, when the session ends, you’ll feel great.
Seabourn Square is the living room of the ship, a combo lounge, library, guest services area, and coffee bar (with its own roaster) with ocean views. There are snacks throughout the day, including the new indulgence of an artisan gelato counter. Seabourn sent chefs to Bologna, Italy for gelato-making training and the results are excellent. There’s also the addition of an old-fashioned gelato cart up at The Colonnade casual restaurant, so even determined calorie-watchers will have a hard time resisting creamy treats. The first thing you notice in The Colonnade is a vast, serve-yourself bounty of food including fresh fruits at breakfast and salads at lunch. The casual dinnertime option here is either a themed buffet or family-style sit-down meal created by Thomas Keller.
The Grill by Thomas Keller, the ship’s popular date-night spot (reservations recommended) is done up in retro, early 1960s splendor, including a glass screen that probably has colors from your mom’s old kitchen. Put on your pearls and little black dress to dine on Keller’s lobster thermidor or true rib-eye from Snake River Farms in Idaho (one of several preferred vendors Keller has brought shipboard). Artwork in the entryway and adjacent piano bar includes black and white New York society photos and a pair of Frank Stella lithographs. You’ll be inspired to sip a Manhattan.
But the talk of the Seabourn Ovation is the new Earth & Ocean, a pop-up eatery at night on the pool deck. A delicious menu of innovative world cuisine–influenced dishes is creatively served against a backdrop of the sea and twinkling stars — a reminder of why you came on a ship in the first place.
It’s one of the many ways that Ovation indeed deserves an ovation.
By Fran Golden
Photo: Seabourn Cruises