Seabourn Pride From Bangkok to Hong Kong via Vietnam

Seabourn Pride, Jan 18-30, 2011

I had the pleasure of boarding the Seabourn Pride on January 18th for an unforgettable cruise from Bangkok to Hong Kong with stops on the Thai Island of Ko Kood and three major ports in Vietnam, Saigon, Danang, and Hanoi.

Once on board, the magic of Seabourn was in play.  Our suite was spacious and comfortable at 275 sf.  The Pride is one of Seabourn’s three older ships so it does not have the glamour and spaciousness of their newer fleet, but the quaintness and familiarity of the ship and the staff made up for any absence in modernity.

Champagne was waiting and cheese was gladly delivered by the time we reached our suite at 3am.  Though my companion over-packed with two suitcases and two carry on, the walk in closet was more than ample to allow us both to completely unpack and keep all in order during our 12 day voyage through dramatic changes in temperature.

The Seabourn Pride is exemplary in the following areas:

Staff that is delightful, personal, capable, and reach to always accommodate

Absolutely spectacular and creative food and beverage at every meal

Size and warmth of guests – with just 105 suites and interesting and sociable guests, one feels that they are staying at their own private club.

From the moment we checked-in, from security, to reception, to room service, stewards,  servers, bartenders, culinary, cruise directors, spa and fitness and entertainers all seemed to be part of a very happy and functional family.  Our names were learned quickly by many and each team member seemed to go out or their way to say YES, smile, learn our preferences.  We felt that the team was genuinely glad to have us and that they could not do enough to make us comfortable, greet us, take care of us.  After 17 years working for the very top hotel groups, this is an area where I have such high expectations that I am usually let down. NOT the case on the Seabourn Pride.

I am a self-professed food snob and I can also be easily bored with mundane menus or repetitive use of ingredients or preparation.  The culinary team created such diverse and fabulous menus at every meal.  Themed dinners in the smaller restaurant 2 were never “dumbed down” to appeal to bland palates and the result was Thai, Vietnamese, Indian cuisine tasting native but with an upmarket haute cuisine touch.  The main restaurant menu was extensive and ever changing and always delicious.  Any special requests or cravings not on the menu were always satisfied.  One guest was in the mood for lamb and chef said he would have it tomorrow.   Another dreamt up lobster ravioli and chef made it.  Once day 6 of us decided to take our own picnic on board a junk on Halong Bay.  Room service agreed to prepare delicious box lunches, even during the breakfast rush.  Anyone who is concerned with the complimentary house wines being sub-par can rest assured that all wines poured were delicious and there was always something to uncork for guests with another preference.

The size of the ship makes for a very cozy and sociable atmosphere.   Guest mixed extremely well and we found our selves with an ever-growing group of friends with a mix of tour and dinner companions each night.

This particular itinerary offered a great mix of busy port days broken up with a restful day at sea.  Trivia, bridge, spa, fitness classes, comedians, lecturers and entertainers made each day feel unique.

The itinerary Bangkok to Hong Kong starts with a very hot visit in Bangkok and the first stop is a beach barbecue day at the delightful island of Ko Kood.  After being tendered to the island, guests enjoy caviar and champagne service offered waste deep from the top of a surfboard.  Incredible Thai massage is offered for guests in a make shift day spa.  Wonderful grilled seafood, pork ribs and bountiful salads and desserts are offered after pina coladas and rum punches are enjoyed.   This was a relaxing way to kick off the cruise.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is very interesting and located just a short distance from the port.  The city is busy and the history is mind blowing though guests should be aware of the communist-favoring propaganda with any museums or sites related to the “American” war.  Highlights are the French architecture at the Opera, post office, and cathedral.  And visits to the presidential palace and the depressing war remnants museum.  Again, if guests venture out on their own they should be very clear about the correct entrance and procedure for taxis to return them to the Pride.  (We had quite a scare wondering around stacks of massive shipping containers, dodging fork lifts, and trying to find anyone who spoke English or who could direct us to the location of our ship as dark fell)

DaNang is the port which is very close to be beautiful China Beach and the spectacular town of Hoi An, a charming UNESCO world heritage town on the water.   The shopping here is terrific and cheaper than Saigon and there are a multitude of shops and restaurants and cafes.  Everyone agreed that two days here would have been brilliant.  Weather was not warm enough, but a beach visit would also be nice while in Danang.  Half way between Danang and the town of Hoi An is the Nam Hai property.  This is a spectacular and very sleek top end oasis.  It is part of GHM properties (sister properties are The Setai and The Chedi) and it is virtuoso.  The amount of large convention hotels, casinos and golf resorts opening on the coast here is mind blowing (and a bit sad) so the Nam Hai offers a very sophisticated and top end alternative.  The pool villas are an oasis and service is top notch.  If ever an over night in this area, this is the place!

Hanoi was our final stop in Vietnam and annoyingly the port is located 3.5 hours from Hanoi.   However, one should definitely make the trip.  There is an option for an overnight excursion so that one stays in Hanoi vs. labouring through a 7 hour round trip in a same day.  Hanoi is a very charming and more pedestrian friendly city than Saigon.  Ho’s tomb, the Hanoi Hilton (POW prison, but beware of the propaganda here too!), Temple of Literature are the main attractions but shopping, the lake and restaurants abound.

Halong Bay is easily reached form the port at Cai Lan (Hanoi) and this is a real highlight in beauty.   One can easily negotiate a private junk and bring a picnic lunch if they don’t want to do the shore excursion this day.   Kayaking and also biking is possible on an island nearby.

Final stop Hong Kong at the Peninsula – as expected, wonderful! Huge rooms, lavish room amenities, buttoned-up service.  What an amazing hotel experience.

Note that this time of year, one must be prepared for the heat and humidity of Bangkok and Saigon and the cool and possibly damp weather in Hanoi and Hong Kong.  In Vietnam the tour guides are mandated to stop at government owned marble and handicraft shops, which you can avoid if you instruct your driver on a private tour to bypass. Shopping is good here but expect to pay 8x as much as elsewhere. Bonus is bathrooms are very clean and nice and there is coffee at these government shops (a plus on the long port to Hanoi drive!).  The ocean crossings can be rough on this itinerary – I took seasickness tablets at the first advisory by the captain of rough seas and I felt fine and did not miss even one delicious meal.  The Pride is an older ship, but with so many pluses, this did not seem important after all.

At debarkation, we felt sad to say good-bye to an exceptionally stellar crew and to so many great friends we had found in the fellow guests.  The captain personally shook hands and said good-bye to every guest stepping off the ship.   The personalized service throughout the Seabourn Pride voyage was commendable.  This is the benefit of small ship sailing where the motto is “never say no!”

I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the idea of all inclusive – no tipping, no signing of bills, and the food and beverage were just beyong belief throughout.   Caviar, champagne, whatever, whenever is the attitude. I think the value for what you get is well worth it.  A FIRST CLASS EXPERIENCE ALL AROUND!

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