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Seabourn Encore

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Seabourn Encore represents an evolution of Seabourn's popular Odyssey-class ships. It's bigger -- 40,340 tons as opposed to 32,000, with an extra deck -- and carries 600 passengers in 300 suites, while the smaller ships take 458. Two new restaurants, Sushi and The Grill by Thomas Keller, are the most notable additions, but there's also a VIP area on the top deck, The Retreat, and a whole new approach to the spa, where treatments and classes are integrated into a new wellness program that, if you choose, can be the theme of your whole voyage.

The ship is laid out such that all the accommodations are forward and all the public areas are aft. The compact size, combined with the presence of forward and aft elevators and staircases, in addition to a dazzling spiral feature staircase looping from Deck 10 down to Deck 3, means that passenger flow is excellent.

Designer Adam D. Tihany has gone for a richer, more sumptuous look than that sported by Seabourn's three Odyssey-class ships. Sharp edges have been rounded to create a curvy, yacht-like feel. There's widespread use of rich dark blue and acres of gleaming mahogany (veneer, of course, this being a cruise ship). Shining stainless steel also features throughout and, despite the darker colours, there's light everywhere, through skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows and clever design.

New concepts have been introduced, not least a program of mindfulness, endorsed by Arizona-based Dr. Andrew Weil, a best-selling author and the founder of integrative medicine. The entertainment has had a makeover, with new shows, and the Ventures by Seabourn concept -- launched in 2016 -- has a team of six onboard to keep passengers informed about the wildlife and ecology of wherever the ship is sailing.

The dress code is a strange mishmash of elegant casual and something called "formal optional," which threw us as our pre-cruise documents didn't mention formal. A formal night -- one per seven days, two per 14 days, three for cruises of 18 days or more -- is just that: optional. Some passengers wear tuxedos and evening gowns, others wear suits. Provided that men have a decent jacket and collared shirt, they will be at home in The Restaurant on formal-optional night. Women dressed up more on this night, too, in cocktail dresses and heels. The formal idea has been kept, we're told, because many of the more traditionally minded passengers want a chance to strut their stuff by night.

Elegant casual means smart -- no jeans or shorts -- but a jacket isn't necessary. Most of the women dress elegantly at night, more so than this dress code would suggest, so pack the jewels, some strappy shoes and a few dresses.

Seabourn Encore Inclusions

The cruise fare on Seabourn Encore includes all meals (there are no supplements for any of the restaurants); a decent array of bar drinks and wines, although there is a premium drinks list available; Champagne from French Champagne house Nicolas Feuillatte; speciality coffees; a tote bag for every passenger; and shuttle buses in port when the town centre isn't nearby.

Gratuities are included on Seabourn and are not expected, although you might tip if, for example, you're in a suite and ask your butler to arrange a private cocktail party. Guides on tours seemed to expect tips, although they weren't overly pushy. Gratuities in the spa are up to the individual.

Shore Excursions

Seabourn offers a choice of shore excursions, all at extra cost and ranging from half-days to long, sometimes taxing full days. Excursions can be booked online in advance, at the shore excursions desk, or via the in-cabin TV, and they do fill up. Private cars and guides can also be arranged, either in advance or via the shore excursions desk when onboard.

Some excursions have loose themes. The booklet provided in each cabin indicates which ones visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites; which include an element of adventure; and which might work for anybody interested in "mindful living," although these don't include anything extra, like meditation; they're simply to sites of spiritual interest, like Buddhist monuments. The plan is that the onboard mindful living coach will escort one tour per cruise so passengers can chat with them, but this didn't happen on our cruise.

Some excursions are also labelled Ventures by Seabourn and may involve kayaking (in the ship's own kayaks), snorkelling (again, equipment is provided), hiking or simply exploring a remote coastline in one of the ship's six Zodiac inflatables with a wildlife guide who is part of the six-strong Ventures by Seabourn team.

Excursions are expensive, but they're thorough. Water and sometimes snacks are provided, as are hand-sanitizing towels. The included lunches we tried were of a high standard. There was minimal waiting to disembark for tours, and no issues with waiting in line to get back onboard at the end. When the ship is at anchor, the lifeboats are used as tenders.

Keep an eye out for the shopping with the chef excursion, which takes passengers to the local market with the ship's chef. This one is free to any passenger, but you can't book it ahead of time; instead, look for it in your daily cruise schedule. When you see it, pounce! The excursion limits the number of participants, and it will fill up.

Shuttle buses are brought in for ports located away from the nearest town; there is no charge for these.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

The Grand Salon on Deck 6 serves as theatre, concert venue and lecture hall onboard. Although it's chic in design, with big, comfortable seats, sadly, it isn't the most appealing of spaces, as several pillars really interrupt sightlines. Having said that, the space is intimate enough to work well for Seabourn Conversations, the excellent lecture program, and the stage is big enough for some decent production shows, which take place twice nightly. There's bar service during the shows and hot and cold drinks at the entrance for daytime events.

Four singers and dancers and two ballroom dance experts perform in the ship's own shows, with a mixture of stage sets and virtual backdrops. The productions are competent enough, although not earth-shatteringly different. The highlight was "An Evening With Tim Rice," which was superb; the celebrated lyricist narrates (on film) his anecdotes, interspersed with live performances of songs from "Chess," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "The Lion King," among others, by the ship's singers.

On our cruise, there were a number of guest performers. Three Australian tenors filled the house, although anybody hoping for actual opera was sorely disappointed, "Nessun Dorma" aside. We watched a British magician one night, too.

One deck down on Deck 5, there's a miniature casino adjacent to The Club, with three gaming tables offering roulette, blackjack and poker, and 16 slots. The minimum bet is $1 on roulette, $10 for blackjack and poker. The casino gets quite busy at night; 600 passengers is a big enough crowd to generate some high rollers, who add to the glamour. Outside the door, a humidor display sells Romeo y Julieta, Cohiba and Monte Cristo cigars; note that the casino is nonsmoking.

By day, trivia contests are held in the Observation Bar on Deck 11, with teams accumulating rolling points as the cruise progresses. These are famously competitive. Less intense is the occasional music quiz, for which you don't need to join a team. Other activities include Friends of Bill W. meetings; LGBT get-togethers, unhosted bridge classes and informal play in the Card Room on Deck 8; occasional dance classes with the ship's professionals; and galley tours. There's no charge for any of these.

Enrichment

Seabourn is known for its Conversations and gets some decent guest speakers onboard, relevant to the destination in which the ship is sailing. On our Asia cruise, lecturers spoke about food, herbs and spices, volcanology and anthropology. There were also seminars on mindful living and the usual array of talks from the Steiner-run spa, designed to sell products.

The ship also carries a team of six as part of the Ventures by Seabourn program, which mixes adventurous excursions using the ship's fleet of Zodiacs with talks on the wildlife in the area and a daily wildlife watch from the deck outside Seabourn Square.

Seabourn Encore Bars and Lounges

Seabourn Encore has some beautiful bars and lounges, although the dynamic is quite different from that of the line's other ships. The Grill Bar on Deck 8 has quickly become the place to be seen, while the Observation Bar on Deck 11 has its own following and The Club, so popular on the other ships, seems emptier.

The Club (Deck 5): The late-night venue is done out in mahogany, dark blue and gold, with a contemporary chandelier over the small dance floor. There's banquette seating and small glass tables, and a jukebox in one corner. A quartet plays here before dinner and from the end of dinner until late, and couples get up to dance. The black marble bar is horseshoe-shaped, perched on a raised area with a backlit display of coloured bottles. What's odd is that there's no room for the bartenders to mix drinks here, so they keep disappearing into a small galley behind the bar, which kills the vibe somewhat. Nonetheless, The Club is busy late at night, helped by the proximity of the casino and an aft deck area to cool off from dancing.

The Grill Bar (Deck 8): This is the place to be seen before and after dinner and is often standing room only; pianist and singer Katy Shotter, when she's onboard, plays to a devoted following and creates the vibe of a classy jazz bar. The retro-look watering hole is an extension of the smart Grill by Thomas Keller and has the same cocktail menu as the Observation Bar. After it closes at midnight, those left standing head down to Deck 5 to The Club.

Patio Bar (Deck 9): This poolside bar sits in one corner, with wooden bar stools, and does a lively trade in poolside drinks all day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Waiters circulate with trays of anything from spritz to daiquiris, and provide an efficient service, so you don't really even need to get up off your lounger.

Sky Bar (Deck 10): One deck up from the pool on the starboard side, this small bar is essentially a version of the Patio Bar below, but saves having to walk down the stairs to place an order. It's by the smoking area, so smokers tend to congregate here.

The Observation Bar (Deck 11): Adam D. Tihany has created a gorgeous, light-filled room. Over the circular bar, there's a big skylight adorned with a whimsical glass sculpture of fish in shades of blue. The decor is tan, cream and rich blue and the bar itself is particularly stylish, with brown leather, marble detailing and blue chairs. The noisiest crowd sits here, chatting with the mixologists. These bartenders make a mean cocktail; try the Vespa, or the signature Ship Made Tonic with Gin, a G&T with a twist, using lime juice, raw quinine powder, soda, sugar and gin. A great piano duo plays up here in the evenings and after dinner, while those with pre-dinner munchies are enticed by a display of tapas between 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. In the afternoon, dainty cakes, gooey cookies, sandwiches and fruit tarts are served along with a nice selection of loose-leaf teas, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Seabourn Encore Outside Recreation

A decent-sized pool with teak surround and two hot tubs are the focal points of Deck 9. There are masses of rattan loungers, including some double mattresses on platforms at either end of the pool, but not much shade, which is a problem when the ship is in the tropics. There's a sense of luxury and pampering around the pool with an endless supply of soft towels, for example, and waiters who come round with sunblock, or to clean your sunglasses.

What's particularly appealing about Encore, though, is that there are so many alternative outside spaces. There's a small plunge pool and two hot tubs surrounded by loungers and chairs and tables aft on Deck 5, outside The Club, which is a quiet space to sit by day and an extension of the bar and nightclub area by night (although the net tends to be put over the pool to deter any late-night swimmers). On Deck 7, Seabourn Square opens aft onto another area set up with rattan loungers, chairs and tables. The Ventures team stand here on wildlife watch and passengers come and chat to them; it's a peaceful spot, with permanent shade.

Forward on Deck 7, there's a sunbathing area with a hot tub, three big taupe rattan sofas and some loungers. You get a sea breeze here, but there's absolutely no shade. On Deck 10, there are loungers all around the area looking down on the pool, and a quiet relaxation area aft that belongs to the spa. Yet more outdoor seating is located forward of the Observation Bar on Deck 11, and in another sun trap forward of The Retreat cabanas on Deck 12. If you occupy this, there's drinks service from the bar area of The Retreat, which saves running all the way down to the Sky Bar.

Seabourn Encore Services

Seabourn Square is the heart of the ship, with four concierge desks at the centre, all of them open to the room, although passengers requiring more privacy can be seen somewhere less exposed. Seabourn Square is like a comfortable living room, with groups of tables and sofas in gold velour, shiny mahogany and cream leather, shelves of books, magazine racks and a giant jigsaw. There are three internet terminals, although most people use the Wi-Fi that's available throughout the ship; it's neither cheap nor fast. Prices are: $0.40 per minute pay-as-you-go; two hours for $19.95; three hours for $29.95; four for $39.95; seven days for $239.95; and unlimited for seven days or more $399.95.

The shops are tucked away along one side of Seabourn Square and sell logowear, designer cruise wear, perfume, beauty products, Molton Brown and everyday essentials. There's a Furla purse section. Other services include a card room on Deck 8 with 12 tables, and two meeting rooms on Deck 7 used for private events and religious services.

The lack of a passenger launderette caused great indignation when the ship was launched so one was added on Deck 5 -- and the plans for Seabourn Ovation, still in the shipyard, have already been adapted. The launderette is free to use and has five washers, five dryers, ironing boards and a utility sink.

The ship has a medical facility on Deck 4.

The Spa, which is run by Steiner and branded as Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil, has a theme of mindfulness, which translates into the treatments and the classes in the gym; you won't find hard-core aerobics here or aggressive treatments like Botox.

The whole spa and gym complex is located aft on Deck 10, a tranquil, soothing environment in creams and whites with a wine-red, circular reception deck under a ceiling studded with starry lights. Six treatment rooms are located port side, and on the starboard side, there are men's and women's locker rooms, with a sauna in each one, and a salon for hair, nails, waxing and, new to Seabourn, a men's area offering shaves from $48, mani-pedi treatments and a full pro-collagen groom and shave for $85. There's a small thermal suite with steam and a Mediterranean sauna (less dry than the Nordic version) and heated, tiled recliners, leading to a quiet deck space with soft loungers. A day pass here is $99 per person, or $150 for a couple.

The gym is pretty small, with treadmills, bikes, a rowing machine and free weights; regulars said the space could have been larger. Ditto the small Motion Studio for exercise classes. The problem here is two-fold. The classes don't appear on the daily program, which is annoying; you have to go up to the spa and check and by the time we realized this, everything was booked. Which is the second problem -- there just isn't enough space. Classes, if you can get in, include core and abs; yoga (flow and chakra); guided meditation; Pilates; and one tougher workout. They're mainly free, although we tried a Sound Bath for $15, which was a weird but deeply relaxing meditation to the sound of a therapist stroking crystal bowls to create different vibrations.

Treatments in the spa include an extension of this sound therapy, where the heavy bowls are placed on your body ($99) and more standard fare: Reflexology at $135 for 50 minutes up to a hot stone massage of 90 minutes for $289.

There's also a series of talks but you have to distinguish between the educational -- some excellent lectures by Dr. Andrew Weil or his associates, who will travel on other cruises -- and the sales pitches, like a pointless footprint analysis, which was designed purely to sell ready-moulded orthotics.

For those who really want to embrace the wellness theme, there's a $499 package including three thermal suite passes and a selection of treatments and classes.

There's no jogging track, although people do power walk the short distance around Deck 10, looking down on the pool. The putting green that appears on the smaller ships has been sacrificed to make space for The Retreat (to grumbling from some passengers) and there's one table tennis table, tucked away up on Deck 11. Encore has a watersports platform that's lowered on some itineraries to offer kayaks, pedal-boating and banana boat rides if the weather cooperates.

Another new addition to Seabourn Encore is The Retreat, located forward on Deck 12. You might think that the ship is luxurious enough in itself, but the cruise line clearly still sees a market for those seeking an even more VIP experience, hence The Retreat. This exclusive enclave features 15 cabanas set around a central, shared hot tub, the whole complex shaded by giant horizontal sails. The idea is that, for $249 per cabana on a port day and $349 on a sea day, you get an entire day of indolent lounging.

Each cabana, which is like a living room that's closed on three sides, the fourth facing the hot tub, has a sofa, fridge, flat-screen TV with wireless headphones and out front, two big, squashy loungers. We think there's a bit of a missed opportunity here, as cabanas could have been positioned facing the sea, providing more privacy and unobstructed ocean views.

A chilled bottle of Bollinger Champagne greets each arrival (and is replaced if you want more) and there's a lunch menu with everything made a la minute. Items include the most exquisite buffalo mozzarella salad; shrimp with spicy sauce; grilled sea bass; Caesar salad; a posh BLT; steaks and burgers; and a decadent chocolate sundae. Platters of fresh fruit keep coming, as well as tortilla chips with little bowls of dip, and there's a menu of handcrafted cocktails, including an amazing avocado daiquiri. There's one spa cabana and if you don't use it for a treatment, a $50 credit is applied. Worth it? Definitely as a treat -- the cost is really no more than paying for two shore excursions.

This area really is very private, although the occupants of each cabana can see one another (you can pull a curtain across the front if you want more privacy). Anybody who hasn't rented a cabana is quickly but politely sent away by the attendants if they come up here to snoop.

One of the features Seabourn regulars said they liked best about Encore was the increased choice of restaurants. Quite simply, there was no bad meal. From the casual buffet in The Colonnade to the new Grill by Thomas Keller, the jewel in the ship's crown, the food is superb, in quality, presentation and the variety offered. Locally sourced fruit appears on the buffet; the Japanese dishes in Sushi had authenticity; and there's even a booklet in each cabin explaining the provenance of the dishes in The Grill by Thomas Keller, where the food is sourced from Keller's own suppliers. This is certainly a ship for food-lovers. The vegetarian offering is excellent, too.

Service is superb: attentive and intuitive. Crew will go out of their way to make something happen, for example, finding you an outside table for two on a warm night, or running down to Seabourn Square to collect a breakfast cappuccino (as the machine in The Colonnade is poor).

The influence of Thomas Keller, the only American chef with three Michelin stars, on Seabourn's dining scene extends way beyond his eponymous Grill. Every two days, Chef Keller creations appear on the menu in The Restaurant as specials, and there are three more casual nights per week where you can try his family-style dishes in The Colonnade, the ship's more informal restaurant. Seabourn's chefs are taken to Keller's test kitchen in Napa Valley, where they're trained in preparation and presentation. What's more, Keller's ingredients, even on the ship, come from a range of small, handpicked suppliers worldwide, from the Californian caviar to the Tuscan olive oil.

There are no supplemental charges for dining in any of Encore's restaurants.

The Restaurant (Deck 3): The Restaurant is absolutely beautiful. Adam D. Tihany's design resembles a geometric, creamy-white tree, with "branches" extending over the ceiling, interspersed with whimsical contemporary chrome chandeliers sporting bright blue, gold and mauve glass balls. There's more blue in the water glasses and an otherwise monochrome look of whites and pale golds. It's classy and genuinely feels like a grand restaurant as opposed to a cruise ship dining room. The acoustics are good, with evening tunes provided by a pianist on a baby grand.

The Restaurant can seat 400 people at a time. There are four big tables for 10, a couple of eights and a selection of sixes, fours and plenty of twos. We never had a problem getting a two-top and we never had to wait in line; there are entrances at the front and the back, which helps.

The Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast (a brief window from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) is essentially the same dishes as those served in The Colonnade -- eggs Benedict, omelettes made to order, bacon, hash browns and steaks, as well as assorted fruits, cereals, a wide range of pastries, and healthier items like smoked salmon.

Lunches (12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.) are reasonably light, with two starters, three mains and two desserts on a daily changing menu. Items like pan-sauteed salmon and a chipotle peppered beef wrap caught our eye. There's an always-available menu, too, with two starters, four mains and four desserts, the mains consisting of hot dogs, burgers and steaks. The only vegetarian item on the fixed menu is salad but it's easy enough to request something, whether you order off-menu (within reason, of course), combine two starters or ask for something from the menu to be adapted without the meat.

Dinners (6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) are elegant affairs, with rich, sumptuous food, although it's easy enough to assemble something lighter if you choose carefully. Every day, there are three starters, two soups, five mains and four desserts on top of an "always available" menu of plainer fare like steaks and chicken breast. Typical dishes include a foie gras and morel terrine, miso-glazed salmon, goat cheese tart and, for dessert, chocolate chip lava cake and a hot fudge sundae.

Keep a lookout for the Thomas Keller specials every two days (a summary of what's on in every restaurant is helpfully provided in your suite the night before). Some of the dishes in The Restaurant included California white sturgeon caviar; a grilled "calotte" of prime beef; and one of the most sublime vegetarian dishes we've ever tried, cassoulet of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans with an eggplant confit. It's opportunities to try food like this, at three Michelin star level, that takes Seabourn Encore's dining to a whole new level.

Wines are poured generously and although there's a red and a white wine of the day featured on the menu, the sommeliers are flexible at bringing an alternative without nudging you toward the premium list.

Seabourn Square (Deck 7): The coffee bar in Seabourn Square (6:15 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is packed in the mornings and justifiably so -- finally, a cruise ship with decent coffee, a highly skilled and passionate barista and even a small roastery. There are no charges for coffees, and the assortment of dainty cakes -- from fruit tart to grandma cake, shortbread and little chocolate pots -- and finger sandwiches tempts many, even after a large breakfast.

Sushi (Deck 8): This new-to-Seabourn dining venue is popular and prettily done out in cream and gauze with big picture windows along one side. There are eight seats around a communal dining area, five two-tops, two tables for four and a more private booth. At lunchtime (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.), you can order bento boxes, with a choice of teriyaki chicken, miso salmon or tamarind-glazed mushrooms, served with miso soup and a salad. Dinner (6 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) is sushi and sashimi, as well as small plates and salads, and light desserts like a refreshing green tea sorbet. As you might expect, it's mainly fish, but the chef is obliging when it comes to making vegetarian rolls.

Drinks include Japanese beer, sake, wine and Sencha green tea.

Reservations are available for dinner (though we found they're not necessary), but lunch is first come, first served, and not that busy.

The Grill by Thomas Keller (Deck 8): This swanky grill is the piece de resistance of the new ship and has been a huge hit from the beginning. It's done out in dark browns and golds, with tables for two, four and six and a glass-and-chrome wine tower at the entrance. It has a real buzz, not least from the packed cocktail bar at the entrance, which is busy the whole evening and most definitely the place to be seen. The Grill is open for dinner only, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; reservations are essential.

To be clear, though, this is a grill so don't go expecting a version of Keller's legendary French Laundry. There are six starters, nine mains and six desserts with a daily special of each. The food is as you'd expect from a grill, but a cut way above the average -- a delicious crabcake on top of a rich aioli; roast chicken so moist the knife glides through it; lobster thermidor so spectacular I heard people discussing it in an elevator. Starters include things like Caesar salad prepared tableside and New England clam chowder. Mains, lobster aside, are rib eye of Snake River Farms beef and Dover sole, with eggplant Parmesan for vegetarians. Sides are way more than an afterthought and include garlicky spinach, a rich mac 'n' cheese, steak fries and glazed carrots. Save room for dessert, which includes a seven-layer coconut cake, lemon meringue pie and a decadent ice cream sundae.

Wines of the day are poured as they are elsewhere on the ship. The premium wines, housed in a tower at the entrance to the restaurant and selected by Eric Johnson, the sommelier from The French Laundry, range from reasonably priced to seriously expensive; for example, $39 for a Napa Valley Sauvignon 2015 to a Colgin Ix Estate 2012 for $789. A 2012 Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is $39. Wines by the glass start at $12.

The Colonnade (Deck 9): The Colonnade, the casual, indoor-outdoor dining venue, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, is different on Encore from its incarnation on Seabourn's smaller ships. Tihany has opened it out, so on entry, you're greeted by fresh, colourful buffet displays, rather than tables. There's a big outside seating area with a permanent shade and one deck down, more outside seating, with a small buffet at breakfast and lunch to save diners trekking upstairs for their salads. (Waiters carry the plates in any case, so sitting here is no hardship.) There's plenty of seating inside, too, and there was never a problem finding a table.

We loved The Colonnade for many reasons, dining outside in the tropics being one of the main ones. The make-your-own salad area at the all-buffet lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) is stupendous, and some of the hot dishes were truly delicious, from chicken satay with Indonesian-style rice to a mushroom lasagna and a daily roast.

Dinner (6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.) is served, rather than a buffet, and followed loose themes, among them Mediterranean, Singaporean, Chinese and Indian. (The exception is Indian night, which features a buffet and menu selections; with seven different curries to try, this theme night was spectacular.) Theme nights generally include a choice of starters, mains and desserts. Every couple of nights, there's a Thomas Keller theme (for which you need to reserve), with main course dishes designed for sharing family-style as an echo of his restaurant, Ad Hoc, in Napa Valley. These are rich and heavy -- things like platters of ribs and fried chicken. In addition, there's an always-available menu of classics like shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, steak and salmon.

Breakfasts (8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.) were nicely presented with a buffet and a menu of specials but, we felt, the weakest spot. The fruit juices are sweet and most definitely not freshly squeezed, while the cappuccinos were pretty awful and we got into the habit of collecting coffee at Seabourn Square and taking it up. There were always plenty of excellent pastries and a decent array of fruits, though, and there's a menu of eggs to order, also featuring pancakes, waffles and dishes like eggs Benedict. (However, the omelettes had a weird, gritty texture and generally lacked flavour; we opted for fresh poached or fried eggs instead.) One corner on the buffet alternates every other day between congee (a rice porridge with savoury side dishes) and ciabatta sandwiches. We only discovered during a chance conversation with a waitress that you can place a special order for veggie juice, which we did so on our last day; we enjoyed an excellent carrot, apple and ginger concoction. We also wish breakfast began earlier because many of the excursions started at 8:30 a.m., and we felt time-crunched to get a meal in before our day in port.

The Patio (Deck 9): The Patio is a casual dining spot by the pool. At lunchtime (12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.), it's the default dining spot for many with a colourful salad buffet, daily specials like fajitas, regulars including burgers and fries and a small a la carte menu featuring items like grilled sea bass. In the evenings, you can dine outside here from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., with three salads or cold starters, four mains and one pasta of the day on the menu, all served rather than buffet. Dishes include shrimp and crab claw cocktail, arugula and watermelon salad and for mains, grilled swordfish, steaks and brochettes. There's a vegetarian option but you do need to ask for it -- pastas generally can be adapted for vegetarians as well.

Room Service: A range of comfort food is available for in-suite dining, from shrimp cocktail and tomato soup to penne Pomodoro, sauteed salmon, roast chicken breast, club sandwiches and burgers. Ice cream, cookies and cheese are all on the dessert menu. Room service is available 24 hours, with a separate menu for breakfast, which includes hot dishes.

Encore has 300 cabins in eight categories, all designated suites. Even the most basic of accommodations has a decent-sized balcony, a marble-lined bathroom and a walk-in closet. The decor is similar throughout -- cream carpets, chairs and sofas in brighter colors with retro curves, extensive use of cream leather and beds with throws in rich shades. From Penthouse grade upward, there's imaginative use of space, with features like a sleeping area separated by curtained glass screens, right up to the massive Wintergarden Suite, with a glass-enclosed conservatory area featuring a tub and a daybed. All suites come with stocked mini-bar, personalized stationery, atlases and umbrellas, fluffy robes and slippers.

Eight suites across different categories are wheelchair-accessible. Thirty-two have capacity for a third bed and 34 interconnect (with some standard suites bolting onto a much bigger one to create some of the grandest accommodations on the ship). The different categories are scattered all over the ship, so study the deck plan carefully before booking.

Veranda Suite: Encore has six categories of Veranda Suite, which make up the bulk of the cabins onboard. They're all a similar size -- 246 to 302 square feet with a balcony of 68 to 83 square feet. Decor is cream carpets, cream leather detailing, darker colours in the chairs and sofas, cushions in jewel tones and silky throws in shades of burgundy and purple. Each suite is divided in half by thick drapes that separate the sitting area from the bed and each one has floor-to-ceiling glass doors to the veranda.

Features include a glass dining table for two; sofa; and a walk-in closet, where there are two hanging rails, a full-length mirror, a row of hooks, a drawer unit and a safe. Outside the closet there's a small vanity area with a drawer where the hair dryer is kept, and a magnifying mirror as well as larger mirror. There are plenty of cupboards, plus bedside tables with two drawers and reading lights. Sockets are both 110 and 220V AC and there were plenty of them. No USB charging points, though.

The mini-bar, stocked with sodas and beer, is in one of the cabinets; you can ask for spirits, too, which come by the liter. A bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne welcomes passengers on arrival. There's a big interactive TV with a generous variety of channels, a decent playlist of music and a selection of movies so good that we actually chose to have two movie nights after dinner on our eight-night voyage. Verandas have two reclining chairs with footstools and a small table.

Beds are exceptionally comfortable, with lovely crisp linens and a choice of pillows.

Bathrooms throughout really do shout "luxury," in calming grey-and-white marble. All of them have twin sinks, a spacious and powerful walk-in rainforest showerhead and a bath with hand-held sprayer. (V1 suites on decks 7 and 9 have shower only.) Bathroom amenities are by Molton Brown, in a pleasant, refreshing fragrance designed especially for Seabourn. Cabin stewards also come round with a tray of soaps on embarkation day, from Hermes and L'Occitane, plus an oatmeal scrub bar. Towels are a bit miserly in size -- you might expect proper bath sheets on a ship of this calibre -- but there are plenty of them. You just have to get used to wearing the luxurious robes instead of wandering around wrapped in a towel.

The V-grade suites are priced according to their location. All of those on Deck 5 have slightly deeper verandas but a solid metal rail, rather than glass, which means you can't see out if you're reclining.

Penthouse Suite: There are 16 Penthouse Suites on decks 10 and 11, measuring 450 square feet each with balconies of 93 to 103 square feet. These suites have all the features of the Veranda grades but with a bigger living area with an L-shaped sofa, two TVs and a sleeping area screened off by glass. The verandas have loungers as well as chairs.

Penthouse Spa Suite: These five luxurious suites of 639 to 677 square feet are the only accommodations located aft, immediately above the spa and accessed by their own staircase and two elevators. Big, deep balconies of 254 to 288 square feet overlook the ship's wake and, on the port and starboard cabins (1190 and 1195), wrap around two sides. There are two TVs and a dining table seating four. The big selling point of these suites, though, is free access to the spa's serene area as well as additional spa perks: L'Occitane room fragrances, additional bath products, a soothing music soundtrack and a spa concierge to make bookings.

Owner's Suite: There are seven Owner's Suites, two facing forward on Deck 7, two on Deck 9, two midship on decks 7 and 8 and one accessible suite forward on Deck 10. These suites measure 576 to 609 square feet, with verandas from 142 to a massive 900 square feet. They're all slightly different configurations but include a dining table for four, pantry with wet bar, guest bathroom, two TVs and, in the midship suites, a whirlpool tub. Internet access is included at this level.

Signature Suite/Grand Signature Suite: Forward on Deck 8 are two lavish Signature Suites that connect to the Veranda Suites on either side to create even bigger accommodation (called the Grand Signature Suite) for guests who want two bedrooms and two separate bathrooms. Without the extra suite, Signature Suites measure 931 square feet with balconies of 960 square feet. Each can seat six for dinner and also has a whirlpool tub, wet bar and pantry and guest closet. These are possibly the most appealing suites for entertaining, as they have such expansive living areas.

Wintergarden/Grand Wintergarden Suite: The most prestigious accommodations on the ship, the two Wintergarden Suites give you 989 square feet of space, plus a veranda of 197 square feet running along the side. Up to six can dine in the spacious living area, which includes a wet bar, bookshelves, sofas and armchairs and a big, glass-topped table. The bathroom has a circular whirlpool tub but the piece de resistance is an outdoor tub in a glass-enclosed conservatory with daybed and a large balcony with outdoor dining for six. Each Wintergarden adjoins a Veranda cabin, which can be added on to create an even bigger space, sleeping four plus one on a sofa bed. The downside of these Wintergarden suites, though, is that they lack the balcony space of the Owner's and Signature suites, despite being rated by Seabourn as a higher category.

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