Sailing aboard Seabourn’s small cruise ship, the Legend, we traveled from Monte Carlo through the western Mediterranean back up to Nice, France in 2006. This one was on one of the early Seabourn Yachts with less than 300 passengers.

Seabourn’s small ship cruise experience, with its five star service, made us small cruise ship loyalists.  Small cruise ships offer a very different experience than larger cruise ships. They are not for everyone as they don’t have many of the entertainment options and dining venues that the big ships possess. However, the small ships are often all-inclusive, meaning you will not pay for many extras once on board.  Small cruise ships can also get into smaller ports, provide a much higher standard of personalized service, and typically have much better food.  However, small ships are more likely to get tossed around in heavy seas.  We enjoy small ship cruising as it tends to be more relaxed.  Passengers often get to know one another during the cruise, making lifelong friends. The crew has more time to cater to passenger needs and often enjoys interacting with the passengers.

Note about Seabourn small cruise ships

We traveled with Seabourn on Mediterranean cruises twice, once aboard the Seabourn Legend on this trip and the second time aboard the Seabourn Pride.  At that time, these ships only accommodated 225 passengers.  Our experience in both cases was outstanding.  The food was excellent, only to be topped by their 5-star service.  They went above and beyond to provide anything we asked for.  One of our favorite experiences was when they opened up the kitchen for a unique lunch experience, where passengers could walk through the kitchen to choose different prepared specialties such as soup, seafood, etc.  Tables outside the kitchen were piled high with other delights such as bread, specialty meats, and more.   A large dessert table was a crowd-pleasing favorite.  The kitchen was spotless, and the chef was thrilled to show off his team and kitchen.

Seabourn has since sold these ships to Windstar, replacing them with slightly larger vessels that carry between 458 to 600 guests.  These larger ships allow Seabourn to provide even better guest accommodations and services.  Larger spas, gyms, and more dining and entertainment options can be found on board.  However, they still maintain their small cruise ship advantages of excellent food, service, and fabulous ports of call.

Windstar went on to upgrade and enlarge these ships to accommodate 312 guests.  We sailed on the Legend under the Windstar name just before they upgraded and lengthened it.  A trip aboard one of these lengthened an upgrade Windstar ships is on our list for a future cruise.

We look forward to cruising aboard one of Seabourn’s newer small ships this June on a Seabourn Alaska cruise with friends.

 Sailing from Monte Carlo to Nice aboard the Seabourn Legend

What type of ship to spend your hard-earned money on is a matter of taste and what is most important to you as a traveler.  If you choose one of the larger ships, do your homework, carefully check the reviews, and work with a travel agent to get the best rooms and other accommodations at the best price.  Be sure to learn precisely what is included in the cruise fare and what you will pay more for during the cruise.  Using a good travel agent is particularly important if anyone in your party has unique needs that may need to be addressed.

This Seabourn cruise turned Marilyn and I into small cruise ship loyalists. The only thing that would attract us to a big ship, with over 1000 people, would be if we planned a cruise with children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, the Seabourn experience was terrific from start to finish.

Visiting Monte Carlo, Monaco

After a long night of flying, delayed by a gate hold gate at Kennedy, we arrived in Nice at around 9 am. After we cleared immigration, we found our private driver, provided for free by Seabourn, waiting outside customs.  We jumped in the Mercedes for a quick drive from Nice to Monte Carlo and arrived at the Hotel Hermitage, one of the choices on Seabourn’s pre-cruise offerings. It’s still one of the most luxurious hotels we’ve ever stayed at in any city.  The hotel was elegant with its domed glass ceiling, and the rooms were spacious and beautiful, with a fabulous view of the Monte Carlo Marina.

Luxurious Hotel Hermatiage HallwayThe ride along the shore to Monte Carlo was stunning.  The city is built upon steep hills overlooking the Mediterranean, offering beautiful vistas of the shoreline and marina.

We crashed for a couple of hours, hoping to alleviate the jet lag but woke up early enough to stroll around the boulevard, taking in the beach, the casino, the luxury shops, and all the crazy expensive cars. Our dinner reservation was for 8 PM, and we expected a busy dining room; however, when we arrived, there were no other dinners, and the staff was still working on setting up the restaurant. People eat very late in the luxury capital; we were the first people there and quickly identified as Americans. We were invited to sit at the bar while the waitstaff prepped for dinner. The bartender served us ibérico ham and a cocktail before while we waited for our table to be ready.

Exploring Monte Carlo

After dinner, we wandered around and found ourselves at the famous casino featured in the James Bond thriller CasinoCasino Royal Exterior by day featuring gardens in front Royale. It was different from your typical casino. We had to pay a $10 cover charge to enter. After entering, we found ourselves in a tranquil and very formal setting; even the usual slot machine ding, ding, chimes were barely audible. Being used to the Las Vegas Casinos, the atmosphere of the famed Casino felt a little eerie. We walked around to see what was happening.

There were several high-stakes poker and blackjack tables with modest groups seated and playing.  We spotted a small bank of slot machines and tried our luck for a few minutes.  The silly little noise they made when we won was so pitiful that we lost interest quickly.  It was only around 10 PM and still very early for many people to be in the casino, which made it a bit boring.  Tip:  When dining in Europe, plan to eat late, usually around 10 PM.  Then try visiting the Casino Royale to see if it is more lively.

Marina at Monte Carlo featuring luxury yachtsAfter dinner, we walked along the waterfront, where dozens of mega yachts were moored for the evening. Several were bigger than our cruise ship.  We later learned that one night’s dockage cost averaged about $100,000 for the larger private yachts!

The following day, after a fantastic breakfast at the Hotel, we walked around most of the commercial district, enjoying the shops that cater to the rich and famous lifestyle. As mentioned earlier, the city is very hilly, and we found ourselves winding up the zig-zag roads to near the top of one of the chic boulevards taking in the view, the shops, and the residences along the way.  We discovered there were elevators built into the hills and chose the quick way back to the bottom.

After a late checkout and a great lunch at a corner bistro, we hooked up with the Seabourn representative, who guided us to the waiting ground transportation. Seabourn handled the transfer of all our belongings to the ship.  Minutes later, we were at the Legend, located on the outer perimeter of the Marina.

Seabourn’s Excellent Service but a Poor Cabin Choice

Seabourn’s signature five-star service was on display when our check-in took three minutes, and we were whisked off to our cabin by our room attendant, who was very sweet and showed us everything in our cabin, asking us what we wanted to be stocked in our refrigerator.  A bottle of chilled champagne and chardonnay and a fruit and cheese tray were waiting for us.  These were just a few niceties that Seabourn provided throughout our trip.

We booked the trip a little late with an eye on our budget and ended up with the forward most cabin onboard, which was larger than other cabins in its class, so we thought it was a good deal.   Our cabin was on the first level next to the laundromat, which turned out to be very handy, but unfortunately, it was also next to the port anchor, and we were woken early some mornings when the anchor chain was lowered. However, being experienced boaters, we took it all in stride.

Rough Seas

The other challenge of having a forward cabin on the ship is that you feel the boat’s motion much more. There was a period of about 36 hours when we encountered rough seas.  Overnight, we were tossed off the bed a few inches when we hit a few bigger-than-normal waves. But, we laughed and enjoyed the ride knowing we would have a great story to tell back home.

The following day it was still pretty rough. After a quick breakfast, the Captain advised all passengers to stay in their room until the seas quieted, which they thankfully did a few hours later. It was nice to have some down time to read and relax in our cabin which was spacious with a nice sitting area next to the window.  As it turned out, this cruise was our Cabin attendant’s first time aboard a ship, and the poor young girl was seasick.  I gave her my seasick bands, and she was very appreciative.

The cruise was 14 days, so there were many stops. Highlights included Portofino, one of the most beautiful settings in the Mediterranean, Sicily, Sardinia, Pompeii, Sorrento, Cinque Terre, Tunis, Rome, and Florence.

 Portofino, Italy

Porto VenerePortofino is magical and a photographer’s paradise. First, we went on an excursion to the Hotel Splendido, a hangout for the rich and famous. We toured the hotel and then enjoyed a four-course lunch in which all courses featured different olive oils from the region. Of course, the hotel overlooked the harbor. The Hotel Spendido would make a fantastic destination wedding for those that would enjoy experiencing Italy and have a healthy budget.

Later, we walked along the road above the city, enjoying several stunning vistas overlooking the small bay with its colorful boats. We turned one of the photos into a full-sized framed print that hangs in our dining room today.

 Cinque Terre

Cinque Terra region was also a highlight. Seabourn provided a memorable excursion from the ship, and we visited three Cinque Terre Village nestled into a tight valleyports. A train runs along the hilly mountainside, but the easiest way for tourists and residents to get from village to village is by brightly colored skiffs.  Cinque Terre is beautiful and encompasses five unique villages, each with its storied past.  We would love to return to this area again and spend more time discovering the sights and delights of each one of these villages.

 Tunis, Tunisia

Mosiacs in Tunis Bardo MuseumTunis was exciting. We arrived on a Monday morning. It was scorching, but that didn’t stop us from visiting one of the most interesting museums we’ve ever experienced and the bazaar.

The Bardo Museum is one of the most important museums in Northern Africa. It’s generally closed on Mondays, but Seabourn arranged a private experience for its passengers. It houses mosaics and treasures from 100 BC, and the 40 or so attendees enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The bazaar was also a unique experience and included an informative “sales Rug display at the Bazaarpitch” from one of the local carpet merchants.  We walked away without buying a carpet which was not an easy feat.

Many onboard didn’t go to shore that day. We attributed that to the heat and, in some cases, an underlying concern for safety ashore. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful experience and never felt our security was in jeopardy.

Sea Day – An attempt at skiing on the Mediterranean

One of the days of our cruise was a sea day.  At that time, The Legend had a small marina at the stern of the ship stocked with all sorts of water toys.  Our sea day was a bit rough, and most people just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery at the pool. However, a few of us did venture down to the marina to see what was there.  Marilyn headed down with the idea that she wanted to water ski on the Mediterranean Sea.  The ship’s marina crew was there to accommodate anyone’s wishes, so with a warning about the height of the waves, they took her out on the skiff, and over she went to get her skis on and set up to ski.  She did get up for about 30 seconds before going head first into the water after hitting a big wave.  It was more like skiing the moguls on a black diamond snow trail than water skiing.  However, she has technically skied on the Mediterranean Sea.

Others tried the banana float with the same result as me and lots of laughs, while other, more intelligent passengers just chilled on the large float tethered to the back of the ship.

Sicily, Italy

Crowded Nice BeachesSicily turned out to be very memorable. We disembarked in Palermo on a Sunday, which also turned out to be a holiday. Virtually every shop and restaurant was closed in town, and there weren’t any people on the street. We were with our new cruise companions from New Zealand- Rob and Judy, so we decided to “find the party.” We learned that everyone was at the beach for a holiday, so we jumped on a bus and headed 40 minutes south to the beach. We enjoyed the broad expanse of sand populated with thousands of locals.

Searching for a great seafood restaurant, we found one across from the beach.  The local seafood was plentiful, and we enjoyed many of our favorites, including a massive octopus’ salad. When it was time to head back to the port, we found the corner where all the buses stopped.  However, there were so many that we had no idea which one to take back to Palermo.  We quickly discovered that the local Italians did not speak very much English.  It became a comedy as multiple people tried to figure out which bus we belonged on.  Sure wish we had Google Translate back then.  Finally, when the dust settled, one person gave us the correct advice, and we boarded the right bus to get us back in time to catch the last launch back to the ship.

Sorrento, Italy and Visiting Pompeii

Sorrento is another fun stop. After taking the excursion to Pompeii, we returned to Sorrento and enjoyed strolling throughExterior of Pompeii the colorful streets, buying souvenirs in the shops, and, of course, enjoying some gelato. Again, I found Pompeii to be extraordinary.  Marilyn recently read the book “Pompeii” by Robert Harris.  Reading the book on the way to Europe for our trip helped bring the ruins to life for her which added to her enjoyment of the city ruins.  The book vividly depicts the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and describes the main characters’ tales as they try to survive.  If you ever get a chance to visit Pompeii, you may want to read the book first.

As we returned to the ship, our bus had to go through the heavy Sorrento/Naples area traffic. We spent a fair amount of time on a bus in traffic, but the experience was worth it. In addition, the city of Sorrento is quite charming.

Last two Destinations:  Florence and Rome

The last two stops on the cruise were Florence for an overnight and then to our last stop, Rome. Both these cities are covered in our blog posts, Mediterranean Sea Adventure, but it can’t go without saying they are must-see cities.  If you are planning a cruise that begins or ends in Rome or Florence, we highly recommend spending a few extra days to experience the city better.  They are both magical by day and night and have so many historical tales to tell.  You’ll find the food to be outstanding as well.

Night View of the Louvre Pyramid behind our hotel. Up Next:  Paris

Our trip terminated back in Nice, but we weren’t finished yet. So, we arranged to take the high-speed train from Nice to Paris. It was a fun experience and a reasonably quick way to make the 500+ mile trip to the magical City of Lights, Paris.  Look for our upcoming post bout visiting Paris.




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