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Seabourn Ovation

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Is bigger better? That question is top of mind for many Seabourn Ovation passengers. The 600-passenger ship is the second in the luxury line's newest ship class, which started with Seabourn Encore in 2016. The two are each one deck and 150 passengers larger than the line's older and beloved trio of ships. While the larger ships are not so different physically from their slightly smaller sisters, the size might feel a tad big to past Seabourn cruisers, used to the smaller trio, who clamour for the brand's ultra-pampering service and top-notch dining in a laid-back, country club-style environment.

In many ways, Ovation's size is an asset. It offers an additional dining option, a sushi restaurant first introduced on Encore, as well as a spacious venue for The Grill by Thomas Keller (which feels cramped on the smaller vessels). It also was the first to debut Seabourn's new alfresco dining concept -- Earth & Ocean at The Patio -- as well as the line's new gelato program. At mealtime, there's something for everyone. You can eat at The Restaurant every night and never be bored, or try a different venue for five nights without repeat (six, if you count in-suite dining). While there were a few minor hiccups, food was generally well-executed, interesting and delicious.

The ship is gorgeous, thanks to the design inspiration of renowned interior designer Adam D. Tihany, with the help of ArtLink, the art provisioning service for the hospitality industry that curated the art collection onboard. (Though Ovation is laid out identically to Encore, it has its own look.) It also possesses a large number of seating nooks, both inside and out, for passengers to relax with a drink, a book or for a chat. You rarely feel the presence of those 600 travellers -- with the exception of The Colonnade buffet at peak hours.

Additionally, the ship is the only one in the fleet equipped with all-new high-speed internet technology. When we were online, we never had that sluggish, waiting-forever-for-the-page-to-load frustration (though occasionally we had trouble getting any access at all, which was likely due to the ship's positioning relative to its satellite).

And the vibe still feels like a small ship. Passengers find their go-to bar or evening routine, and you'll recognize the folks you consistently see in The Club, the gym or the casino. Folks are happy to socialize and engage with their shipmates. The ship quickly becomes your ship, with the comfortable feeling of home where people take care of you, rather than the big-ship feeling of being among strangers and valued only for your potential to spend more money.

The one place where size seems to have an impact is with service. Ovation strives for Seabourn's high service standards -- crew members know your name before you've met them and are generally warm and friendly, special requests are encouraged and accommodated as best the ship is able and you're never far from a drink. Officers and entertainment staff routinely host dining tables, taking care of solo travellers and bringing passengers together in a way that increases the camaraderie of the ship.

However, on our cruise, there were more service hiccups than passengers might expect, given Seabourn's reputation for flawless, intuitive service. Waiters didn't materialize immediately to take a drink order, and we often found ourselves trying to flag someone down, in either the Colonnade or a bar. Orders were misheard in The Restaurant, hot water for tea came lukewarm multiple times and dress code infractions were handled inconsistently and without empathy. Other passengers grumbled about mishandled anniversaries and difficulties with shoreside arrangements.

The hotel director chalked it up to new crew needing a few more months to gel, but passengers we spoke to wondered if Seabourn couldn't keep up the quality of service they're used to on the larger ship. That said, everyone agreed that the quibbles were minor, without a major impact on the enjoyment of their vacation.

Overall, the ship offers an effortless vacation experience, in which crew members go above and beyond to pamper passengers and make them feel at home. Whether it's too big, too small or just right is a matter of personal preference and the ability not to sweat the small stuff in the face of incredible destinations and a truly gorgeous, luxurious ship.

Seabourn's dress code is slightly more relaxed than other luxury cruise lines. During the day, passengers wear casual, resort-style attire (shorts and jeans are allowed) throughout the ship, including in the lounges. Swimwear, cover-ups and exercise attire are reserved for the pool area, outside decks, spa and fitness centre.

At night, the dress code in all venues is mainly elegant casual -- men are encouraged to wear slacks with a collared dress shirt or sweater (jackets are optional), while women can wear slacks or a skirt with a blouse, a pantsuit or dress. Both men and women are allowed to wear jeans, as long as they're not distressed, in all venues except The Restaurant. On our cruise, we saw the full spectrum of womenswear, from chic outfits with jeans and dressy tops to flowy separates and dresses, both stylish and more casual.

Formal nights, which are celebrated only in The Restaurant, occur once on cruises up to 13 days, twice on cruises of 14 to 20 days and three times on cruises of 21 or more days. All other venues aside from The Restaurant maintain elegant casual dress codes on formal nights. Seabourn's formalwear requirements include a tuxedo, suit or slacks and a jacket for men and an evening gown or other formal apparel for women.

While the evening dress code is supposedly enforced at 6 p.m., no one condemns you if you're still watching sail-away after 6 in the clothes you wore all day. However, try to enter The Restaurant in the wrong attire, and you will be sent away to change. We even heard of someone being turned away for wearing too casual shoes -- despite shoes not being addressed in Seabourn's official dress code descriptions.

Seabourn Ovation Inclusions

The cruise fare on Seabourn Ovation includes all meals (there are no supplements for any of the restaurants); most alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and cocktails); speciality coffees; a logo tote bag for every passenger; self-serve laundry facilities, complete with detergent; and shuttle buses in port when the town centre isn't nearby.

Gratuities also are included in the cruise fare, though you're able to tip extra if you wish. (We recommend making a donation to the crew fund in lieu of tipping individuals.) In the spa and on guided tours, tipping is up to the individual.

Shore Excursions

Seabourn offers a variety of guided shore excursions, ranging from half-day to full-day; select itineraries also include Ventures by Seabourn tours for more adventurous types. (For Ovation's current schedule, these are only found in Norway.) All excursions cost extra and can be booked online before the cruise, onboard with the concierges in Seabourn Square or via the in-suite TV. Private cars and guides can also be arranged.

All full-day tours include lunch and water, while half-day tours usually include snacks and water. You'll find that there's generally minimal waiting time to disembark for tours and returning to the ship from tours. Hand-sanitizing towels and infused water are provided in a tent on the pier, to passengers returning from tours. Tour groups are generally limited to 20 or 25 people, and Seabourn purposefully does not fill buses. For example, if a tour has 60 passengers signed up, the destinations team will put them on three buses with three separate guides.

At some ports, where the ship is required to anchor versus dock, lifeboats are used as tender boats to take passengers to and from the ship and pier. Shuttle buses are brought in for ports located away from the nearest town; there is no charge for these.

A number of standard excursions include visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites -- developed through the line's partnership with UNESCO. Seabourn also offers the opportunity to go shopping with the chef in port, which involves visiting local markets to purchase ingredients for meals to be had onboard. This trip is complimentary but not bookable; instead, you have to keep an eye out for it in your daily cruise schedule.

The Ventures by Seabourn tours are more active, offering some type of outdoor activity by a team of onboard experts (such as historians, scientists and naturalists, who also give lectures onboard). Some tours incorporate the use of the Zodiacs and kayaks kept onboard. Others might include snorkelling (equipment is provided) and hiking, depending on the itinerary.

Daytime and Evening Entertainment

On port days, daytime activities are kept to a minimum, but on sea days, Seabourn puts on an array of activities, though nothing like you'd find on bigger ships. Expect programming to include team trivia, bridge and dance classes, cocktail-making demonstrations, beanbag toss or shuffleboard competitions, and galley or bridge tours. LGBT and solo traveller get-togethers are arranged as well, plus enrichment lectures.

The Grand Salon (Deck 6) serves as the ship's main theatre and concert venue and hosts the headliner evening attraction, typically with two shows per night. Musical entertainment from the ships' four singers and two dancers (including a tribute to Hollywood's movie musicals that's exclusive to Ovation) switches off with guest entertainers, such as a solo violinist or comedian. Occasionally, a deck party with live music takes the place of a sit-down show. These evening parties, as well as sail-away events, are certain fun with live music, bar staff concocting unusual cocktails, food stations or passed hors d'ouevres, and chatty passengers making the evening feel festive. (Seabourn is known for its Caviar in the Surf beach parties, but with itineraries like Ovation's, you're more likely to find the Champagne-and-caviar fest as a deck party onboard.)

Acclaimed musical lyricist Tim Rice teamed up with Seabourn to develop its marquee show: "An Evening with Tim Rice." The show offers a behind-the-scenes look at Rice's life and the inspiration behind his work. Cast members -- who have Broadway, West End or national/international touring credits -- put on live performances of songs from renowned musicals "Evita" and "The Lion King," among others.

It's the first cruise ship show we've seen that we enthusiastically watched twice in a row. If you've seen the show already on other ships, know that it was updated in 2018 for Ovation's launch with new tech effects and at least one song change. Also, because Tim Rice demands experienced, first-rate performers, the other production shows benefit from the high calibre cast.

On Deck 5, The Club is the ship's dance lounge, where a spacious bar and adjacent lounge chairs tend to draw crowds before and after dinner, when the live band plays. Next door, there's a small casino with a selection of roulette, blackjack and poker tables, as well as slot machines. Note: The casino is nonsmoking. The ship's most stunning entertainment venue, the Observation Bar, is another popular spot for after-dinner drinks; on our cruise, a talented duo played laid-back tunes every night.

Enrichment

Seabourn is known for its Conversations program and gets some decent guest speakers onboard, especially on sailings with more sea days. Port-intensive itineraries offer at least a destination lecturer to give you some insight into the countries you're visiting. You also will find seminars on topics such as mindful living and the usual array of talks from the Steiner-run spa, designed to sell products.

For more adventurous spirits, the Ventures by Seabourn program includes onboard lectures that focus on the history, culture and wildlife of the cruise region. Lectures are hosted by guest speakers -- consisting of historians, scientists and naturalists -- and complement the guided Zodiac and kayak tours. This program is only offered on select sailings.

Seabourn Ovation Bars and Lounges

The bars and lounges on Seabourn Ovation are beautifully designed spaces, and each has its own vibe. What they do have in common, though, is that almost all beer, wine and cocktails served at the bars are included in the cruise fare (with the exception of a few premium drinks). Seabourn has partnered with mixologist Brian Van Flandern to offer speciality cocktail menus that are unique to each bar; we were partial to the refreshing honeydew cocktail in The Club.

The Club (Deck 5): The classy late-night venue, conveniently adjacent to the casino, is where passengers go to drink and dance. There's a spacious bar on one end and a dance floor in the centre, surrounded by chairs and cocktail tables. Tunes are courtesy of the ship's dance band (or the show band with a singer during breaks) that plays before dinner and afterward, until late.

The Grill Bar (Deck 8): While this bar is located inside The Grill by Thomas Keller, it's not exclusively used by those who have a reservation. Do seek it out; the bar and most of its comfortable seating is located around the corner from the hostess stand, so hidden from view when you first walk in. The bar is a great pre-dinner spot, with its live music courtesy of a talented pianist.

Patio Bar (Deck 9): This poolside bar sits in one corner, with wooden barstools -- though, thanks to the ship's highly attentive service, you'll likely never have to get up from your chair to order a drink at the bar. The pool deck's gelato bar is here, too.

Sky Bar (Deck 10): One deck up from the pool on the starboard side, this small bar is similar to the Patio Bar below but saves those already on Deck 10 from having to walk downstairs to get a drink. It's by the smoking area, so smokers tend to congregate here.

Observation Bar (Deck 11): Another Adam D. Tihany icon is the Observation Bar, which boasts a contemporary beachy design that includes a blue and tan color scheme, a skylight adorned with a playful sculpture depicting a school of fish and a wall of windows bringing in the ocean vistas. Ample seating is located throughout the space, while a center bar offers additional seating overlooking the mixologists at work. The bar, located at the front of the ship, also hugs a curved deck space that offers bridge-like views. This is your spot for sunset or chilly sail-aways, and for pre- or post-dinner drinks while listening to the easy-listening tunes of a lovely duo.

Seabourn Ovation Outside Recreation

The main pool is located on Deck 9 and flanked by two shaded hot tubs. Its surrounding teak deck space offers mesh loungers with headrests, a few daybeds and rattan chairs with cushions; one deck up, you'll find more loungers and larger daybeds with a view of the pool. Soft towels are easily accessible at various stations, while waiters make the rounds -- taking drink orders, offering sunblock and cleaning loungers' sunglasses.

On Deck 5, outside The Club, you'll find a smaller plunge pool with two hot tubs and a handful of lounge chairs and tables. The space is a hidden gem due to its "out of the way" location; it's only accessible through The Club or Seabourn Square followed by two flights of stairs down.

Another tranquil hideaway is the hot tub on Deck 7, tucked away at the very front of the ship. It's surrounded by loungers and, despite its offbeat location, is still regularly serviced by waiters taking drink orders.

Other out-of-the-way deck spaces with seating or lounging furniture include Deck 7 aft of Seabourn Square, and a small section of Deck 12 forward, which is accessed most directly from the stairs outside the Observation Bar's deck.

Those looking for something a little more exclusive can splurge on a day or half-day pass to The Retreat. This closed-off sun deck has a centre hot tub surrounded by lounge chairs and tables, as well as cabanas and a bar offering drink service (with slightly more premium brands than the regular complimentary menu and a special cocktail menu by Brian Van Flandern). Each cabana has a sofa, fridge, flat-screen TV with wireless headphones, fluffy robes and slippers and two large loungers out front. They feature plantation-style shutters; of the 15 cabanas, nine have shutters that don't open but six on the sides have shutters that open up to sea views. Choice of cabana is first-come, first-served. You are presented with a souvenir tote bag, bottle of Bollinger Champagne and an exotic fruit plate on arrival. Lunch service is available from a special menu, and afternoon tea is brought up as well.

The Retreat is typically quiet and chill, and great ventilation and protection keeps the area neither too hot nor too windy. The cost is $149 for a port or embarkation day, $249 for a sea day or two port days, and $129 for a half-day (sea or port, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 2 to 6 p.m.). The price includes a $50 spa voucher so you can get a discount on a massage in The Retreat's spa cabana; book in advance or day of. Minimum age to use The Retreat is 18 and cabanas accommodate a maximum of two people.

One downside of The Retreat is that there isn't a good place to do a walking loop of the ship, which you could have done on Deck 12 if the exclusive area weren't there. There's also no putting green.

In terms of recreational activities, Seabourn Ovation has a water sports marina onboard where passengers have access to kayaks, pedal boats, banana boats and other toys. Bear in mind: The marina is only open when the ship is anchored -- not docked -- in warm-weather ports, and its hours are weather- and port-permitting. This means the ship can go entire seasons without opening up the marina to passengers, depending on the itinerary.

Seabourn Ovation Services

Seabourn Square is the heart of the ship, acting as the concierge centre as well as a quiet space to read or simply enjoy the ocean views with a cup of coffee or tea in hand. There are four concierge desks in the middle of the room, and the staff handle all requests from billing questions to shore excursion bookings and everything in between. The future cruise consultant has a desk off to one side. The rest of the space is composed of various seating arrangements like couches and recliners, bookshelves and TVs -- in fact, the space feels more like a cosy living room than a cruise ship service lounge. In select ports, a local representative takes over one of the sitting areas to hand out maps and provide recommendations.

Computer stations are available for use; there also is Wi-Fi available for an additional fee, and the internet is the fastest on any Seabourn ship thanks to new technology the line is testing. Internet 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 is $399.95.

On the outskirts of Seabourn Square is where you'll find the onboard shops, which sell logowear, designer cruise wear, perfume, beauty products, jewellery and watches, purses and bags, and everyday essentials. On select itineraries, speciality purveyors will come onboard to sell destination-related products, such as nesting dolls and amber necklaces on a Baltic cruise to Russia.

Other services include a card room on Deck 8, and two meeting rooms on Deck 7 used for private events, youth activities and religious services.

A launderette is located on Deck 5. Passengers can either opt to use the washers, dryers, steamers and ironing boards for free, or pay for laundry/dry-cleaning service, taken from and delivered to their suites. The laundry room can be hopping, so don't be surprised if you have to wait for a machine and do set a timer to pick up clothes in a timely manner. On our cruise, passengers smartly left their laundry bags hanging off the handle to their machine, so if they were late, another passenger could at least put their clothes in their bag rather than unceremoniously dumping them on a surface, college dorm-style.

The ship's medical facility is on Deck 4.

Cigarette smoking is not permitted indoors, and is limited to the starboard half of Deck 10 by the Sky Bar (including at the bar), on the starboard half of the pool area aft of The Club on Deck 5 and on the deck space behind Seabourn Square on Deck 7. The Deck 7 space is the only place onboard where pipe and cigar smoking is permitting. Electronic cigarettes may be used inside suites and in the other smoking zones; water pipes and glass pipes are not permitted onboard.

Through the line's partnership with acclaimed alternative medicine guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, the spa offers a combination of standard spa and salon services as well as select services and fitness classes that focus on mindfulness.

The spa and fitness centre are located on Deck 10 aft. There are six treatment rooms and separate men's and women's locker rooms -- each with its own sauna. A small salon offers services like manicures and pedicures; haircuts, styling and colour treatments; waxing; and men's shaving. Be sure to book early, especially on port-intensive cruises with limited sea days; some passengers reported limited time slots left for treatments when they went to book onboard.

Passengers also can choose to purchase a pass to the thermal suite, complete with a steam room, sauna, heated loungers and a quiet deck space with padded loungers. A day pass here is $25 per person, with cruise-long and couples' passes also available.

The gym is equipped with treadmills, bikes, a rowing machine and free weights, plus a Motion Studio for classes. Classes include core and abs, yoga (flow and chakra), guided meditation and Pilates -- most of which are complimentary. The specific Andrew Weil classes in yoga and sound therapy cost $15 to $25.

Wellness-focused spa treatments include a mineral-charged massage (during which crystals are placed on the chakras), a quartz and amber facial, and the amethyst crystal sound bath healing treatment -- during which a therapist uses crystal sound therapy bowls to bring you into a deep meditative state, and infrared light and negative ions are used to reduce stress.

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.

Through the Dr. Weil programming, you also can attend a series of educational lectures, focusing on everything from tips on healthier living to secrets to better ageing. For those who really want to embrace the wellness theme, there's a $499 package, including three thermal suite day passes and a selection of treatments and classes.

Seabourn Ovation does not have a dedicated jogging track, although you will see passengers walking the perimeter on Deck 10, overlooking the pool.

Following in the footsteps of its sister ship, Seabourn Encore, Seabourn Ovation features more dining choices than the smaller ships in the fleet. It's also the first ship to offer the line's new dining concept -- Earth & Ocean -- a pop-up venue that takes over The Patio poolside grill, every night.

As with just about everything else on Seabourn Ovation, restaurants are included in the cruise fare -- even The Grill by Thomas Keller, whose land-based establishments easily can cost more than $500 per person and require diners to reserve seats months in advance.

Introduced with Ovation's 2018 debut is ship-made gelato, handcrafted onboard by chefs who underwent training at Carpigiani University in Bologna, Italy, and served in nearly every dining venue. Cruisers can choose from milk- and fruit-based options, and a variety of unique flavours; different flavours appear in different venues on the same day, so make the rounds if you're picky and don't see the kind you like at your first stop.

While we love the increase in dining options on Seabourn's larger ships, we experienced and heard talk of more service gaffs than we have found on the line's smaller ships. It remains to be seen whether these will disappear once old and new staff gel and get used to the bigger ship, or whether this is the new reality of larger, 600-person ships. For the most part, dishes were cooked perfectly (we only took issue with one rubbery piece of fish).

We do find the line to be just adequate for vegetarians. If you eat meat-free, you might consider making a few special orders.

To help you choose where to dine each evening, a summary of the next day's menu for every restaurant is provided in your suite each evening. Don't miss the Thomas Keller additions to The Restaurant menu, which are listed on the front page (when available) rather than with The Restaurant's main menu. Also worth noting: Unlike other cruise lines, dinner hours are not standard across restaurants. The speciality restaurants open earliest, at 6 p.m., while Earth & Ocean is the last to open at 7:30 p.m.

Note: Complimentary caviar is available anytime, anywhere, upon request.

The Restaurant (Deck 3): Seabourn Ovation's version of the main dining room is a perfect representation of Adam D. Tihany's work -- a gorgeous, off-white room boasting soft contemporary lines in the columns and walls, and a cathedral ceiling with geometric beams and a whimsical chandelier. The Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and can seat up to 400 diners at a time -- with table arrangements for groups of 10, eight, six, four and two.

Ask for a table of two or to share a table with others; Restaurant staff are happy to comply. We also appreciate that Seabourn invites passengers to dine at tables hosted by officers or entertainment staff; most passengers will receive a couple of invites, while solos receive invitations nightly. It's fine if you don't wish to go, but please RSVP to be polite.

Breakfast offers a menu of 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.

For lunch, diners can select dishes from two different menus: one that features "always available" items such as hot dogs, burgers and steaks, and another with more innovative options that change daily. Dishes on the daily-changing menu might include a pan-sauteed salmon and a chipotle peppered beef wrap. Each menu features a small selection of starters, main courses and desserts, including a wide selection of gelato.

Dinner is open seating, meaning diners can show up anytime between 6:45 and 8:45 p.m. Seabourn labels The Restaurant as its most elegant dinner venue, with a stricter dress code.

Every night, diners can choose from three starters, two soups, five mains and four desserts (plus a lengthy gelato and sorbet menu) as well as an "always available" menu of more basic options like steaks, salmon 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. Thomas Keller dishes also are available in The Restaurant, on select nights. They're printed on the front page, but your waiter will open your menu to the middle, so be sure to check because they're easy to miss but often quite delicious and inventive additions to your meal. We particularly enjoyed an heirloom carrot salad and a creatively presented phyllo-wrapped falafel atop roasted romaine lettuce.

Sushi (Deck 8): This intimate dining venue serves up fresh sushi and sashimi -- beautifully presented and paired with inventive ingredients. The venue itself is a light, cream-coloured room with large picture windows along one side and a sushi counter on the other. Diners can either sit at the counter, with a view of the chefs in action, or in the surrounding dining area.

Sushi is open for lunch and dinner. At lunch, diners get to choose from a selection of bento boxes, served with miso soup, a salad and dessert. Choices include pork dumplings, miso salmon and ramen noodles, plus you can get a side of sushi (salmon, crab, eel, shrimp or vegetable). Lunch is better suited for diners looking for Japanese cuisine rather than just sushi.

The dinner menu includes sushi and sashimi starters and main courses, as well as small plates, salads and desserts. Vegetarian dishes also are available, but there are no main course dishes that are not sushi or sashimi. On formal night, Sushi offers a set, multicourse menu; otherwise, the menu does not change. Among the drink choices are Japanese beer, sake, wine, Sencha green tea and Sushi's signature cocktail.

Despite Sushi's small size, reservations are not available. Come when the restaurant first opens, or at an off-time to avoid a wait. We beat the lunch rush by arriving at 12:45 after the noon diners had finished but before many hungry passengers showed up en masse at 1 p.m. and the line snaked out the door. Dinner runs 6 to 8:45 p.m.

The Grill by Thomas Keller (Deck 8): Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller is the mastermind behind this venue -- having developed everything from the menu and wine list (with the help of The French Laundry sommelier Erik Johnson) to the decor and background music playlist. It serves American classics with a twist -- the twist being the ingredients used as well as the way dishes are presented. Reservations are required; make sure you claim your spot before the cruise, as seats tend to fill up fast. It's open 6 to 9 p.m.

Looks-wise, The Grill by Thomas Keller is a dim-lit, stately space, with lots of dark browns and golds and pops of red. There's a bar and lounge seating area toward the entrance, which flows into the dining area -- complete with standalone tables and booths for parties of two, four, six and eight. Don't ask for a window table, as all the window shades are closed at dinner.

On the menu, you'll find starters ranging from Caesar salad prepared tableside to shrimp cocktail and New England clam chowder, and mains such as Dover sole meuniere, New York strip steak, lobster thermidor and roast chicken for two. Desserts include a moist dark chocolate layer cake, lemon meringue tart and a vanilla ice cream sundae. Everything is cooked to perfection, and highlights include elaborate tableside preparations for dishes such as the Caesar salad and Dover sole.

These menu items don't change -- and haven't since the restaurant opened on sister-ship Seabourn Encore in 2017. To help change things up for repeat cruisers, The Grill now offers three daily specials. For example, at our dinner, we could choose from a chilled white asparagus starter, chicken cordon bleu or egg yolk gnocchi.

The Patio (Deck 9): During the day, The Patio -- Seabourn's casual poolside grill -- offers a buffet-style lunch with salads, pizza and daily specials like fajitas and grilled fish. You can order grilled items -- including Thomas Keller's Napa Burger and Yountwurst hot dog, as well as regular burgers, hot dogs and fish of the day -- from the roving waiters. Veggie burgers are available off-menu, but aren't always on hand; expect a brief wait. In the morning, it offers a smoothie bar.

At night, the space transforms into an alfresco pop-up venue called Earth & Ocean. Developed by Seabourn's culinary consultant, chef Anton Egger, the concept features menus inspired by his world travels, as well as contemporary background music and rustic table settings designed by New York-based ceramic artist Wynne Noble. With its eclectic twist and outdoor setting, Earth & Ocean is the ship's most casual dinner option. It's also the ship's late-dining option, open from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Menus change nightly over the course of the week and include three starters, three mains and three desserts, always with a vegetarian option, in addition to delicious warm bread. Dishes could be tandoori rotisserie chicken and Peruvian-style roasted salmon. Shareable plates are presented in Moroccan-style serving pots. Blankets are kept on hand and provided to diners who need them on chilly nights.

If you're sceptical about a pool deck dinner option, don't be. The food, service and setting are all up to Seabourn's high standards, and it's lovely to dine alfresco or watch the sun set as the ship sails.

The Colonnade (Deck 9): Seabourn Ovation's self-serve venue features tastefully displayed buffet stations with both to-go and made-to-order items available. The buffet is open for breakfast and lunch; at dinnertime, passengers can enjoy casual table service . (On occasional evenings deemed Market Dinners, the Colonnade does opt for a dinner buffet.) Look for short menus of a la carte dishes on the tables and don't miss the daily special, listed on a chalkboard by the hostess stand.

Breakfast options include all the usuals, such as eggs, breakfast meat, pastries, yoghurt and smoothies, cereal and fruit (including little glass bowls of fresh berries daily). Waiters will take tea, coffee and juice orders -- or order a mimosa, because, hey, you're on an all-inclusive cruise! The daily special (a masala omelette or Belgian waffle with berries) and hot items like eggs and pancakes can be ordered from your waiter.

At lunch, The Colonnade offers a buffet version of The Restaurant's menu. It offers a salad bar with DIY and premade options, hot dishes with a loose theme (like British or pasta) and daily specials, like Indian butter chicken, and a soup of the day. Burgers and hot dogs can be ordered from your waiter. There's a separate dessert section, plus four flavours of gelato are available at a cute, vintage-style ice cream cart during lunch.

Dinner typically starts at 6:45, but might be opened earlier to accommodate passengers going out on evening tours. It's generally a themed menu (Mediterranean, American, Russian, etc.) with table service, no reservations needed. Options are limited to three starters, two mains and one dessert, so not the best option for picky eaters or vegetarians.

On select nights, The Colonnade hosts a Thomas Keller theme night, which must be reserved in advance. The menus -- which change each time -- include family-style dishes, inspired by those served at his Napa Valley restaurant, Ad Hoc. The portions are larger than the typical Colonnade entree, and the food is heavier (like platters of ribs and fried chicken).

On other nights, often after a long day of touring or when there's a late night in port, The Colonnade will offer a themed Market Dinner, which is a dinner buffet, set up similarly to the lunch buffets. During a Scandinavian Market Dinner, a folding table was set up as a special addition to the buffet with local items purchased in Helsinki during the previous day's Shopping with the Chef outing. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for those sorts of regional goodies.

Dining staff is accommodating of tours, and on some nights with late-returning evening tours, The Colonnade opens for a midnight comfort food buffet with sliders, fried shrimp, chicken wings, soup and sweets. (No pizza, though, which we thought would have been a nice addition to the greasy fare.)

Seating in The Colonnade is available both inside and outside, on a shaded deck space, and there's a nice flow to the layout. However, on days when large numbers of passengers show up for breakfast at the same time or if the outdoor seating is closed for weather, the buffet can turn into a zoo, with tables difficult to find. On sunny days, if the aft terrace is crowded, know that there is additional seating down one deck (essentially outside The Grill) with an additional salad bar for convenience.

Seabourn Square (Deck 7): Seabourn Square's coffee bar is the ship's go-to for a morning cup o' Joe or afternoon pick-me-up. It serves everything from the basics (American coffee and espresso) to speciality coffees, tea and frozen Frappuccino-style drinks from a machine. The bar is equipped with a mini-roastery, too, so you know you're getting high-quality brews. A glass display feature snacks that change throughout the day -- yoghurt parfaits, pastries and doughnuts in the morning; finger sandwiches, cookies and gelato from midmorning until 6 p.m.; and chocolate truffles from 6 to 8. At peak times, there can be a queue for coffee.

Afternoon Tea: Every day at 4 p.m., Seabourn Ovation's Observation Lounge hosts afternoon tea. It's a lavish affair -- complete with china and silver table settings, an extensive loose-leaf tea menu and a beautifully decorated self-serve table with scones, sandwiches, pastries and unique cakes like chocolate peanut butter ganache and apricot.

Room Service: A small selection of comfort food is available for in-suite dining, from shrimp cocktail and tomato soup to penne pomodoro, roast chicken breast, club sandwiches and burgers. Gelato, 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. You also can order items off The Restaurant menu to be delivered to your suite during dinner hours.

Every one of the 300 rooms on Seabourn Ovation is a suite, with separate sleeping and living areas. The most basic features a decent-sized balcony, marble-lined bathroom and walk-in closet. Myriad cabinets offer plenty of storage space within the main areas of the cabin. The decor is similar throughout the suites, with warm gray carpets, cream-coloured walls with dark wood trim and pops of colour in the furniture.

Eight suites across different categories are wheelchair accessible. Thirty-two have the capacity for a third bed, and 34 are interconnecting. The beds are extremely comfortable and come with both firm and soft, synthetic-down pillows and fluffy duvets.

All suites' bathrooms are the perfect blend of efficient and pampering. They come with dual sinks, storage shelves above and below the vanity, a roomy rain-style shower and a tub -- perfect for Seabourn's signature Pure Pampering Bath experience, in which your suite steward will draw a bubble bath for you, allowing you to choose from a selection of Molton Brown body wash. All standard bathroom amenities are Molton Brown, in scents developed especially for Seabourn. On embarkation day, however, suite stewards deliver a tray of alternative soaps, including Hermes and L'Occitane, in addition to an oatmeal scrub bar.

Each suite comes with robes and slippers; a safe; souvenir tote bags; umbrellas to borrow; flat-screen, interactive TV with on-demand movies, as well as ship-related programming; and a mini-bar stocked with a variety of soft drinks and beer. A bottle of Champagne also greets passengers upon arrival, and you can order two bottles of liquor or wine for the suite. Barware is located in the shelves above. Fresh fruit and flowers are changed out when needed. Bedside outlets (including USB, 110V and 220V) are a nice touch; other U.S. and European sockets can be found around the suite.

Veranda Suite: Ovation's six categories of Veranda Suites make up the majority of accommodations onboard. They range in size from 246 to 302 square feet, with a balcony of 68 to 83 square feet. Each boasts thick drapes that divide the sitting area from the bed, as well as floor-to-ceiling glass doors to the balcony -- which has two reclining chairs with footstools and a small table.

Features include a glass dining table for two; sofa; and a walk-in closet with a full-length mirror and drawer; small vanity area with a drawer where the hair dryer is kept; and bedside nightstands with two drawers and reading lights.

Penthouse Suite: Decks 10 and 11 are home to the ship's Penthouse Suites, each of which measures 450 square feet, with balconies of 93 to 103 square feet. These suites include all the same features of the Veranda Suites, expect with a larger living area, including an L-shaped sofa and glass dining table for two or four; larger walk-in closet; and a sleeping area screened off by glass with a second TV. Balconies feature two chairs with footstools and a dining table.

Penthouse Spa Suite: Ranging from 639 to 677 square feet, the Penthouse Spa Suites are the only accommodations located at the back of the ship. They are directly above the spa -- which is accessible via a private staircase and two elevators -- and include free access to the thermal suite and additional amenities like L'Occitane room fragrances, special bath products, a soothing music soundtrack and a spa concierge to make bookings. Other highlights include two TVs, a coffee-and-tea bar, a dining table for two or four, and large balconies (254 to 288 square feet) overlooking the ship's wake; some balconies on the port and starboard sides feature wraparound balconies.

Owner's Suite: Ovation has seven Owner's Suites, measuring between 576 to 609 square feet, with balconies ranging from 142 to a massive 900 square feet. Each has a slightly different configuration, but all include a separate sleeping area with a plush bench, vanity and walk-in closet; living area with a glass dining table for four, couch and easy chairs, pantry with wet bar and coffee maker; guest bathroom; and, in select suites, a whirlpool tub. Rattan balcony furniture is upgraded, with cushions. Passengers staying in Owner's Suites receive complimentary internet.

Signature Suite/Grand Signature Suite: On Deck 8, there are two Signature Suites with interconnecting doors to Veranda Suites; the two can be combined to create the Grand Signature Suite, which includes two separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Signature Suites, on their own, measure 931 square feet, with balconies of 960 square feet. Each has a table for six, spacious living area with multiple seating areas and a desk, a whirlpool tub, a wet bar and pantry, and a guest closet. The huge balconies have double-loungers, as well as the usual chairs with footstools.

Wintergarden/Grand Wintergarden Suite: The most prestigious accommodations on the ship -- the Wintergarden Suites -- also are found on Deck 8. Ideal for entertaining, each suite offers 989 square feet of space, plus a 197-square-foot balcony, with expansive living and dining areas. Standout features include a dining table for six; a colourful sitting area with sofa and arm chairs facing the large flat-screen TV; a balcony with dining table and double lounger; a glass-enclosed solarium with two chairs with footstools and a large jetted tub; and a luxurious master bedroom and bathroom, with a second, oval whirlpool tub and large semicircular shower. The only downside of these suites is that they lack the outdoor space of the Owner's and Signature suites, despite being rated by Seabourn as a higher category.

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