It was exciting to fly to Singapore in the first week of January to take a look, and be a part of the lavish naming ceremony. In addition, I have been able to speak to friends and clients sailing on the pre-inaugural cruises, and on the maiden voyage, to get their impressions of the ship.
Seabourn Encore carries 604 guests, 150 more than the existing sisters Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest. Effectively, they have put in an extra deck (deck 8) to accommodate additional guest suites, the Thomas Keller alternative restaurant The Grill, with an appealing adjacent bar (nice for pre-dinner drinks even if you are not dining there), the small sushi restaurant, and the card room.
The Grill is a reservation only restaurant with a very limited menu (just five items, and occasionally a special) which doesn't change, and many people love it, though others feel it is a little pretentious. Those who enjoyed it were happy to be able to make repeat reservations. Likewise the Sushi Bar appeals to some whilst leaving others cold - I particularly like the lunchtime Bento Box option, a nice choice, and it's unusual to have access to an alternative restaurant during the day.
Whilst on the subject of dining, there are of course many other options. The Colonnade, the casual breakfast and lunchtime indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant, becomes an evening alternative restaurant with a change of menu every night and some excellent themed options. Furthermore, the outdoor shaded deck area at the back is very appealing (tables properly laid with linen and sparkling flatware) and far more extensive than on the existing ships, whilst there is a second outdoor area one deck below (aft of The Grill), so plenty of al fresco dining space which is very welcome.
Meanwhile the main Restaurant on deck 4 has moved on from the high ceilings and clattery acoustics of the smaller ships, with an organic 'forest' décor and welcoming vibe. The Patio by the pool on deck 9 is great for light snacks and lunches.
The ship is just slightly wider and longer than the 450-guest ships. She has been designed by Adam Tihany, who is known for some quite lavish luxury hotel designs, so I was fearing something quite 'in your face', but in fact she is very similar to the existing ships, just a bit more curvy!
Spacious suites are very similar in size and layout to those on the existing ships (and to Silversea's veranda suites). The bathroom features both tub and walk-in shower, and there is a walk-in closet, and spacious sitting area by the sliding glass doors out onto the veranda. The ship itself is very quiet with virtually no vibration, and no noise from suite to suite.
As on the smaller ships, it is a pleasure to enjoy the aft deck areas looking out to sea, accessed via Seabourn Square on deck 7, and The Club on deck 5. This space on deck 5 features both whirlpools and a small pool, and is great for sea days when you really want to feel linked to the sea. Of course there is also plenty of seating around the pool on deck 9, as well as on the mezzanines above.
New on this ship is another daytime sunshine area up at the top, The Retreat, a private deck area with cabanas, available at additional charge ($349 for sea days, $249 for port days). I have someone on board at the moment telling me it is great (in particular the Bollinger poured freely, though you would have to go some to drink $349 worth in the space of a day!), but in general the reaction to the additional cost is a little negative.
As for public rooms, The Grand Salon (theatre) cannot accommodate all guests at once so shows are offered at two seatings - reports back say entertainment is of a very good quality: "more professional than usual". The Club with adjacent casino and intimate dance floor is an excellent after dinner option, whilst Seabourn Square is to my mind a step up from the existing ships, similar in style with a coffee bar offering drinks and snacks through the day, and a reception team to work on concierge services, shore excursions and so forth, a library, newspapers and daily programmes, and a layout which is more open and relaxed than on the existing ships (and access to the open sea-facing deck as mentioned earlier). It is great to see the signature Seabourn Sky Bar retained, and a beautiful forward facing Observation Bar with fantastic views on three sides.
Overall impressions from my port visit: lovely fresh and inviting understated décor, lots of acknowledgement and smiles from staff around the ship, inviting public rooms, and an excellent lunch. From guests on board - comments about the service range from 'not bad' to 'excellent' and given these are early days, can only get better. Food was considered to be of pretty good quality, and the included wines "not bad".
I have heard the usual gripes about dressing down and lack of formality, but frankly that is more the way of the world than anything Seabourn have done. Overall I personally liked the ship very much - it felt spacious but not huge, a sophisticated space, very laid back, and with the potential for an excellent cruise experience.