Seabourn 30th Anniversary Logo

Seabourn looks back on three decades of ultra-luxury innovation and ahead to celebrate our 30th anniversary year


In 1987, a small cadre of hospitality and cruising executives came together to re-invent luxury cruising. Their model was unlike anything experienced outside the circle of those who owned private yachts. They envisioned ships nimble enough to visit not only great cities, but also the less-frequented hidden harbors favored by international yachtsmen. Accommodations would be spacious suites, with expansive views of the sea, providing a gracious home-away-from-home. Public spaces would encourage relaxed socializing. But as unprecedented as these ideas were, the ship itself was not the most innovative part of their plan.

Seabourn’s founders departed from the norms inherited from the transatlantic liner trade. Their customers were not considered passengers. They were guests, as in hotels and resorts on land, sharing travel experiences and enjoying the hospitality of the staff. In that spirit, virtually everything required for the guests’ enjoyment was included in the fare. Dining never incurred an extra charge. Beverages, including fine wines and spirits, were complimentary, either from the ship’s lounges and restaurants or from a bar in each suite, stocked in advance with the guest’s preferences.

The founding president of Seabourn, Warren S. Titus, insisted on the complimentary drinks policy, citing the relaxed social atmosphere people enjoyed at country clubs. To the uninitiated, that appeared to be a value proposition. But for Seabourn’s affluent clientele, that aspect was less important than the fact that it made meeting and socializing stress-free and enhanced their sense of membership.

Tipping was strictly forbidden early in Seabourn’s history. Every guest deserved the best service the staff could offer at all times, and service was never rendered to earn a larger gratuity. After some years, guests increasingly objected and in deference to their wishes the policy was relaxed with the understanding that tips are neither required nor expected by any onboard staff.

Until 1998, Seabourn’s offices were located at 55 Francisco Street near the base of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, a couple of blocks from the Embarcadero piers. Seabourn Pride was named there by a grown-up “America’s Sweetheart,” Ambassador Shirley Temple Black, on Tuesday, December 19, 1988. Mayor Art Agnos declared the day Seabourn Pride Day. It departed that evening and transited the Panama Canal to start its maiden season in the Caribbean. The cruise media, intrigued and delighted by the line’s innovation, proclaimed Seabourn “…in a class by itself.”

The revolutionary ultra-luxury concept appealed to Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest and most popular cruise operator. Seeing an opportunity in this developing segment, they invested by acquiring a 25 percent stake in Seabourn. Among the innovations introduced by Seabourn during this period was “Evenings/Movies Under the Stars,” with first-run films or dance concerts on deck after dark. This concept, which recaptured the largely empty open decks back into night-time onboard programming, was quickly adopted by the industry at large. By 1995, Seabourn the company was constrained by the limited capacity of its fleet.

In January of 1996, Seabourn announced acquisition of a third sister-ship of the same design, Queen Odyssey (which became Seabourn Legend.). The acquisition was financed by Carnival Corporation’s purchase of an additional 25% of the company, to a total of 50% ownership. In 1998, Carnival Corporation acquired full ownership of Seabourn and ultimately added the line to its family of independently managed operating brands. Once again, Seabourn continued to innovate, introducing an extra onboard service called Pure Pampering, in which a stewardess offered to draw and prepare a luxurious bubble bath for guests.

By 2007, increasing competition and evolving guest expectations were changing the luxury cruise segment. Luxury ships were expected to offer private verandas, and luxury spa facilities had become important to affluent travelers. Seabourn responded by designing another evolution in ultra-luxury cruising: the 32,000 ton, 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey. Nearly three times the size of Seabourn’s Pride-class ships, it carried only about twice as many guests. The added space allowed the largest spa facility in the category, a variety of alternative dining and entertainment venues, and plenty of open deck space. 95 percent of its suites had private verandas. Seabourn Square replaced the traditional Pursers Lobby with a multi-purpose lounge that included a European Konditorei-style coffee bar. Launched to unanimous acclaim in 2009, Seabourn Odyssey was declared “a game-changer” by the media. Two additional sister-ships, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest, followed in 2010 and 2011. During that same period, Seabourn sold its original ships to enable a more consistent fleet profile.

With its three-ship fleet consistently top-rated in guidebooks and readers’ polls, Seabourn enjoyed a high percentage of frequent repeat business. Capacity constraint again began to limit the line’s growth. Rather than simply duplicating a successful design, Seabourn again raised the expectation for ultra-luxury cruise ships. To realize their new vision, they enrolled master luxury hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany to design of the entire ship. Launched in 2016, Seabourn Encore, is a stunningly beautiful and modern realization of Seabourn’s founding vision. Accommodations are 100 percent spacious, ocean-front suites with private verandas. Public spaces are elegantly inviting for shared conversations. The ship’s variety of superb dining options includes The Grill by Thomas Keller, serving classic American dishes inspired by the Michelin-starred chef. Spa & Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil is an exclusive onboard program of seminars, classes and presentations on wellness and mindful living. Ventures by Seabourn™, an optional shore excursion program, invites guests to participate in active excursions in kayaks and Zodiacs on select voyages directly from the ship. Night-time entertainment features An Evening with Sir Tim Rice, a multi-media production of hit music from the Broadway composer’s career. A second sister-ship, Seabourn Ovation, will launch in 2018, elevating ultra-luxury cruising to new heights of elegance and style.

But for all the many innovations and enhancements the company has introduced over its three decades, Seabourn’s greatest contribution may be the one idea that has never changed: Seabourn staff’s intuitive focus on the guest’s experience. They share a passion for adding any extra touch that might transform a guest’s simple satisfaction into sheer delight. Seabourn crew members have a pet name for that unexpected, nearly clairvoyant gesture. They call it a Seabourn Moment.