Seabourn Cruise Line: An Overview

Seabourn Cruise Line is a luxury cruise line whose fleet of six ships sail all over the world. Despite being founded relatively recently (1986), Seabourn has a somewhat complicated ownership history, but as of 2001 the cruise line has been entirely owned by the world’s largest cruise ship operator, Carnival. Of the various cruise lines owned by Carnival, it is the smallest by market share at .3 percent, but as an operator of luxury ships it targets a niche audience. Seabourn Cruise Line was originally based in Miami, Florida, but in 2011 it transferred its operations to Seattle, Washington.

As stated above, Seabourn’s history is a little complicated. It was founded by a group of Norwegian investors in 1986, and two years later the first ship of the new cruise line, Seabourn Pride, became operational. The following year, in 1989, its sister ship, Seabourn Spirit, joined the fleet. The next year an additional ship was scheduled to join the Pride and the Spirit, but financial limitations prevented this from happening. The ship that was supposed to join the Seabourn fleet ended up under the ownership of Royal Viking Line. However, in 1996 Carnival increased its stake in the company to 50 percent – Carnival had already bought a 25 percent stake of the cruise line in 1991 – and with the resources of Carnival, Seabourn was able to buy the vessel that was originally purchased by Royal Viking Line. This newest vessel, named the Searbourn Legend, started operating for Seabourn the year it was purchased, in 1996. Two years later, in 1998, Carnival, along with a group of Norwegian businessmen, bought the remaining 50 percent stake in Seabourn, and then in 2001, Carnival bought out the Norwegian shareholders and has owned it ever since.

This may not seem particularly difficult to follow, but a few different factors, primarily related to Seabourn’s fleet, complicate the cruise line’s story. Apart from the ownership history of what eventually became known as the Seabourn Legend (which actually passed through one more layer of ownership after the Royal Viking Line), there were three ships that briefly served in the Seabourn fleet before being moved to other operations. These three ships came from Cunard, which for a few years was merged with Seabourn. (When Carnival and the Norwegian businessmen bought the remaining 50 percent of Seabourn in 1998, they also bought Cunard and merged the two companies together. However, the two lines were split apart in 2002.) While serving in the Seabourn fleet, these ships were named Seabourn Goddess I, Seabourn Goddess II, and Seabourn Sun. They started operating in 1999 for Searbourn, but the Seabourn Goddess I and the Seabourn Goddess II were sold back to the original founder of Seabourn just two years later. The Seabourn Sun served for an additional year, but in 2002 Carnival transferred the ship to one of its other cruise lines, Holland America Line.

Thus, for much of its history, Seabourn has only operated three ships: the Seabourn Pride, the Seabourn Spirit, and the Seabourn Legend. Each of these ships is quite small, having a gross tonnage of only 10,000. In 2009, however, Seabourn added another ship to its fleet, the Seabourn Odyssey. In 2010 and 2011, the Seabourn Sojourn and the Searbourn Quest joined the fleet, respectively. All three vessels are sister ships with the same dimensions. They hold only 450 passengers each when each ship’s 225 cabin suites (about 90 percent of which have balconies) are filled. Even though they are over three times larger than Seabourn’s older three ships by gross tonnage, they are still quite small by modern cruise ship standards. Just the same, the ships are very luxurious and have enormous spas, and their relatively small size allows them to fit into many more ports around the world than the huge vessels.

By 2015, Searbourn’s three new ships will be the only ones operating in the Seabourn fleet since the older three ships will depart from service by then. Unless you’re nostalgic for the old ships, this is not much of tragedy, as the new ships have been widely praised and have even won some awards. If you are interested in taking a luxurious cruise, each one of Seabourn’s ships will amply supply one.

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