Our Maiden Cruise, Seabourn Encore, Romance of Rivieras

As we were celebrating an important occasion, our first cruise had to be extra special, so we chose one of the top ultra-luxury cruise lines in the world, Seabourn.

Aboard one of their new ships Encore, we set sail on a 7-night trip from Barcelona on what was billed as the Romance of the Rivieras, visiting Mahon, Marseille, St Tropez, Ajaccio, Monte Carlo, Portovenere and Rome.

At 690 feet long and 92 feet wide Seabourn Encore is larger than the Odyssey-class vessels.  She embarked on her maiden voyage in January 2017 from Singapore and has been exploring the world’s ports ever since.  Carrying only 600 passengers in 300 suites this seemed the perfect size of ship to experience our first ever cruise.

Before we boarded the Encore, we spent a few days exploring Barcelona staying at the five star Majestic Hotel.  Located on Paseo de Gracia, it was perfectly placed to explore Gaudi´s famous buildings, and the city’s restaurants and bars.

The hotel was also celebrating its own special birthday, 100 years of luxury hospitality.

The Junior Suite was just what we needed to slip into the luxury life and relax.

We also enjoyed an incredible evening celebrating Linda’s birthday at the Mandarin Oriental Moments restaurant.

Read more about it here.

If you are looking for good food, culture, architecture, adventure and relaxation Barcelona has it all.

Barcelona really is an incredible city and deserves its own write up, so it is very much on our radar for a another trip.  For our first few days it provided a great base for us to set off on our maiden cruise.

When we boarded the Encore, we were chilled and relaxed. Perfect, as we had another 7 days of very much the same planned!

After a pretty slick and impressive boarding experience and fantastic welcome from Cruise Director Ross we found ourselves sipping champagne and devouring canapés on the Colonnade Restaurant deck at the rear of the ship.

After lunch we headed for the main pool area for the sail away and live opera, the champagne was flowing, the sun was shining and the entertainment team gave us an incredible send off as we departed Barcelona.  

‘Sail aways’ became a special part of our cruise experience trip and we never missed the opportunity each day on deck as we left port.

We were staying in suite 828, a port side mid ship / deck suite.  We had been advised this was a good location for our first cruise experience to see whether we had our sea legs or not.  Thankfully we did!

All Veranda Suites feature a full-length window and glass door to private veranda.  They also offered a very comfortable living area, queen-size bed, walk-in closet with personal safe, interactive flat-screen TV with music and movies. 

We also had a fully stocked bar and fridge, and a surprisingly very spacious bathroom with separate tub and shower.  Plush robes and slippers added to the luxury feel.  Our personal suite stewardess, nightly turndown service, and pillow menu was a nice touch and added to the intimate and personal experience Seabourn are famous for.

One of the main attractions of Seabourn is their award-winning cuisine. Encore offers a choice of dining venues and having the flexibility of being able to dine where and when we wanted was one of the reasons we picked this cruise line. Depending on our mood of the moment we could look out our glad rags for a fine dining experience or enjoy a casual dinner alfresco.

The food was so good and the surroundings that luxurious we never took enough pictures, a slight challenge when pulling together a blog like this.  Hopefully we’ve captured enough to give you a flavour of our experience.

The main restaurant was a stunning venue and offered a real elegant dining experience but perhaps less intimate and romantic than some of the other restaurants.  It features open seating and we always opted for a table for two.   The menu was varied and the food was impressive, we also enjoyed a special tasting menu here to celebrate Seabourn’s 30th anniversary. 

Our favorite restaurant was Sushi.   An amazing team of chefs and front of house staff created authentic and exquisite sushi directly before our eyes. 

You could choose to dine here for lunch or dinner.  Incredibly fresh produce masterfully put together for us to enjoy – a real highlight of our trip with every visit – and added a little romance to the cruise as you shared and enjoyed the amazing dishes prepared for you.

The Grill by Thomas Keller was also a must visit and highly recommended.  Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller has provided the inspiration for this classic American restaurant from the ’50s and ’60s, serving simple but iconic dishes, like premium steaks, whole roasted chicken and Lobster Thermidor.

An intimate and exclusive experience with fab food too!

The Colonnade, is a casual restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating offering meals prepared in open-kitchen style and served as a lavish buffet.  A nice venue, but we’ve never been one for buffets so we only ventured here a few times for breakfast, the odd afternoon snack and to recover from our tender incident!  Read on to find out more.

The Patio offers a relaxed poolside dining option with grilled specialties and freshly baked dishes.   This was our favorite spot for lunch. In the evening you can choose from a full menu and dine under the stars.

We did take advantage of room service most mornings and became pretty partial to an afternoon bottle of champagne and caviar on our veranda. 

A nice touch, if not just a tad opulent!

The WiFi on the ship was generally ok, however it was chargeable, so we normally waited until we were in port to contact the outside world.  This was probably our only real criticism of the ship as most luxury venues now offer WiFi / internet access as standard these days.  On one hand it did allow us to ‘switch off’ more than normal, so that wasn’t a bad thing.

Our first destination was Mahon the capital of Menorca, second largest of the Balearic Islands and the second largest port in the world after Pearl Harbour.

We arrived early that morning and after enjoying the arrival and breakfast on our veranda we set off to explore. 

The winding and narrow streets of this pretty medieval town were quirky, and the Gothic architecture and religious buildings were stunning.

Overall, we had an enjoyable few hours and returned late morning to the Encore for some sun, rest, relaxation and of course champagne and caviar!

Next up for us was Marseille, located in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region of France. An added twist for us cruise ship newbies was arriving into port by tender

The arrival into Marseille was a breeze, but the return journey to ship was eventful and quite simply the scariest experience of our lives! 

Have to say we were a little disappointed with Marseille.  The weather certainly didn’t help, as it took a real turn for the worst shortly after we disembarked the tender.  We couldn’t really put our finger on it, but the City didn’t really come across as welcoming and was less than impressive. 

We had also organised an open top bus tour, but given the torrential rain and lighting, it quickly descended into a bit of a wash out.  So much so that we had to cut the tour shortly, but only after we caught a glimpse of the famous Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica.  We’re putting it down to the weather; maybe our next visit will be more enjoyable.

Back at the Seabourn tender pick up point is where things became interesting.  We were greeted by a fantastic team albeit they seemed a little nervous.  It transpired that the tender before ours was in difficulty due to the weather conditions and couldn’t dock with the ship.  It then had to wait in the choppy seas until the ship could turn 360 degrees allowing it to dock under more favourable conditions.  When our tender eventually set off, we assumed all was fine, but no!  This was the most frightening 10 minutes of our life as the tender crashed through the choppy seas with us hanging on for dear lives. 

When we eventually reached the ship and docked it was clear that we were in the midst of a full-scale emergency operation as the crew, medical staff and senior officers were there to help us disembark.  Ok, we’re sure the crew knew what they were doing and wouldn’t have put us in any real danger, but it was a very scary experience.  We found out later as we recovered in the Colonnade that the tender before us had been stranded in the choppy seas for over 30 minutes, so that put our own experience into perspective.

Like falling of a bike, we were back in a tender the following day. Destination this time was the little port of St. Tropez in France one of the best-known resorts in Europe. 

Before we explored the harbour, we took a short panoramic drive to experience the beauty and contrast of modern Port Grimaud and the medieval Grimaud village.

Situated on a high hill and dominating the Gulf of St Tropez, is Grimaud, a ‘perched’ village. After a short uphill walk, we meandered through the quaint and rustic streets towards the centre of the village and then upwards again to reach a stunning viewpoint.

Back down at sea level Port Grimaud itself is a charming village which looks like an old Mediterranean fishing village, but its really a modern complex of luxury houses, fully equipped marinas, and seven miles of meandering waterways.  

We spent several hours and a short boat trip exploring before heading back to St Tropez.

Returning to St Tropez we found the harbour packed with tourists and fishing boats, excursion craft and luxury yachts all jostling for position.

On the waterfront were old pink and yellow houses, converted into cafes, cabarets and restaurants, luxury boutiques, galleries and antique shops.

After exploring some of the nearby streets and landmarks we settled down for a well-deserved cocktail or two at the famous Le Senequier Restaurant before returning to ship.

This was one of our best and busiest days off ship and we were pleased to return to recharge our batteries early afternoon. One of the things we loved about the Encore, and something we had been worried about before we boarded, was that we were always able to find somewhere to settle down for a few hours to enjoy the sun and relax.  As you can see this was not an issue.

There were always sun loungers available throughout the ship regardless of the time you returned, including some very quiet and discrete areas if you looked hard enough.

Given this was our first trip we never wanted to miss anything, and ended up burning the candle at both ends.  Waking early to ensure we never missed a port arrival and staying up late to enjoy an after dinner cocktail and catch the entertainment took its toll.  Although we enjoyed the experience we both felt that we needed another wee break to recharge after the trip.  Not great when you have day jobs to return to.  

Speaking of entertainment, we normally don’t bother, but being on cruise we had to give it a try. We had heard great things about cruise ship shows. This was our most disappointing aspect as most of the shows were geared towards the more mature passengers, and the lead singers only made an appearance on a couple of evenings during our 7-night trip.  The shows also didn’t have the scale or grandeur of some of the larger ships we had read about, but to be honest we didn’t mind as the smaller ships offer so much more in terms of intimacy and romance.

Ajaccio, located on the west coast of the island of Corsica was our fourth port to visit.

Following another enjoyable early morning arrival into port we explored the area on foot for a short time and then set off on a more successful and drier bus tour. 

First, negotiating the old town area then heading west along a very scenic coastal route towards Torra di a Parata a 16th Century tower landmark. A pretty decent morning, giving us plenty of time to relax back onboard Encore in the afternoon.

We had always been a little concerned that a cruise would perhaps feel overcrowded with issues over space on deck, but this really wasn’t the case on Seabourn.  You could always find a spot to relax, catch some sun, enjoy a cocktail or two in several bars or simply chat to other guests.

Glamorous Monte Carlo was our second last trip and a must visit for anyone wanting to experience luxury and an insight into how the other half live. 

The arrival early morning was spectacular, slowly edging towards port, squeezing past multimillion-dollar yachts, cruisers, watching the town wake up while catching glimpses of the famous Casino, parts of the Grand Prix circuit and the Prince’s Palace.

After disembarking we spent the morning exploring the obvious haunts including the grand prix circuit, grand casino, Hotel de Paris and Café de Paris. 

We also took our own audio guided walk through the narrow streets, past the Oceanographic Museum and the cathedral containing the tombs of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier and stopped off to see the changing of the guard at the Prince’s Palace.

Monte Carlo was impressive and certainly a must visit destination, but we’ve done it now and we wouldn’t necessarily rush back unless of course we won the lottery and had to find somewhere to berth our mega yacht!

Our final port was Portovenere located on the beautiful Ligurian coast of Italy. 

To be honest we hadn’t really known what to expect when we arrived, but it turned out to be our favourite trip of the entire week.

An old fishing village with a protected harbour it featured beautiful pastel shaded buildings, cobbled street and winding alleys. 

It wasn’t too busy either and we enjoyed walking around exploring Chiesa di San Pietro and Castello Doria, which after climbing to the top gave us breathtakingly spectacular and dramatic views of the Encore herself as she waited for us returning. 

All in a great destination that we hope to visit again, especially in the evening as we suspect the atmosphere would be pretty romantic.

Our final destination was Rome, unfortunately our flight home ruled out any chance to explore but we expect to visit again soon.

Our entire Seabourn Encore experience was fantastic and gave us an insight into the world of cruising, something we had wanted to do for some time.  It gave us the opportunity to visit some incredible ports enjoying some stunning scenery along the way and celebrate to the full a really special occasion for us.

Importantly though we did it at our own pace and were able to enjoy the luxurious surroundings and cuisine on aboard whenever we wanted to.  We are now officially part of the ‘Cruiserati’ and already on the look out for our next trip.

Other Information: This was not a sponsored / discounted visit; the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to Seabourn for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.