SeaDream Yacht Club
The Line in a Nutshell
We're unequivocally in love with this kind of ship experience. SeaDream's pair of intimate cruise-ships-turned-yachting-vessels delivers an upscale yet casual vacation without the regimentation of traditional cruise itineraries and activities. Also sails to: Caribbean (plus Europe).
SeaDream was created for independent-minded travelers craving high-end service and food sans formality and rigid schedules. Step aboard one of these 112-passenger yachts and you're boarding a floating club of mostly like-minded travelers who cringe at the thought of sailing en masse to the Nassaus of the world. It's an intimate group that wants to feel like it inhabits an exclusive and remote seaside hamlet on some hard-to-reach, difficult-to-spell island, where the food is good, the masseuses are on hand, and the drinks are flowing. On a SeaDream cruise, everything is included in the cruise fare and you'll never be pestered to pay for drinks or tip the crew. There also aren't art auctions, roving photographers, or "special" restaurants vying for your money, but instead cool adult toys such as WaveRunners, appealing Caribbean ports off the megaship drag, and pampering service that includes complimentary orders of jumbo shrimp served to you in the hot tub (or wherever) whenever the desire strikes. The line's flexible itineraries and fluid daily schedules should appeal to landlubbers used to exclusive resort vacations.
Most passengers are in their 40s and 50s, with the line reporting an average age of 47. About 70% are American (with British, Canadians, and other Europeans making up most of the remainder), and are not veteran cruisers. They're the kind who have refined tastes and want top-notch service and gourmet food, but are secure enough to dispense with a stuffy atmosphere. When our coauthor Heidi sailed aboard the SeaDream I in the Caribbean, the mix included a fun-loving, middle-aged doctor and his wife from Texas; a 30-something couple-next-door from Pennsylvania, who ran a successful baking business and liked to swig beer from the bottle; a retired travel executive who was clearly used to the good life; a restaurant owner; and a group of well-dressed, hard-drinking friends celebrating a 40th birthday. Many passengers have chartered their own small yachts for a vacation or actually own one. Passengers were friendly and mingled easily, and by day three, alliances had been made and clusters of new friends were enjoying drinks by the pool and dining together in the open-seating restaurants.
The SeaDream yacht experience is most similar to a cruise with Windstar, whose intimate, motorized sailing ships provide casually elegant, yachty jaunts for mostly 40- and 50-somethings to similarly great places in the Caribbean and Europe -- though not with SeaDream's all-inclusive price tag. The SeaDream experience is less highbrow and way more playful than Seabourn, whose three 208-passenger ships attract an older, more sober clientele.
A big chunk of the line's business comes from full charters of the ships, often by large (rich) families. Smaller groups can sometimes take advantage of a deal that offers one free cabin for every four booked, up to a maximum of 25 cabins. Groups of 50 are a significant presence on ships this size, so when booking, inquire whether there will be any large groups aboard, to avoid the "in crowd/out crowd" vibe.
In fall 2001, Norwegian entrepreneur Atle Brynestad, who founded Seabourn in 1987 and chaired the company for a decade, bought out Carnival Corporation's stake in Seabourn's Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II. He then worked with former Seabourn and Cunard president and CEO Larry Pimentel to form the SeaDream Yacht Club, reintroducing the ships as twin yachts. SeaDream II was redesigned and refitted at a Bremerhaven, Germany, shipyard and was unveiled in Miami in February 2002. Her sister ship debuted 2 months later, following her own refurbishment. In early 2009, Pimentel resigned from the company due to fundamental disagreements with management over the direction of the company, and Bob Lepisto, who has been with SeaDream since the beginning, was appointed president, and founder and owner Atle Brynestad was named CEO.
The mantra from management is that these vessels are not cruise ships. They are yachts and have been painstakingly renovated to invoke the ambience of your best friend's private vessel, on the theory that cruising is about what happens inside the vessel, and yachting is about what happens outside. Toward this end, deck space has been expanded and refurbished with such touches as queen-size sun beds. The Main Salon is cozy, with fabrics and art handpicked by Linn Brynestad, the owner's spouse. The dress code steers clear of the traditional tux-and-sequins dress-up night by favoring "yacht casual" wear. Some men wear jackets, but never ties. Itineraries are designed so that ships stay overnight once or twice a week so that passengers can enjoy the local nightlife if they wish. Plus, because SeaDream's ports of call tend to be the less commercialized ones that are generally off the megaship main drag, you'll rarely be meandering around a port town with thousands of others (thank goodness). If the ships are anchoring offshore, their size generally enables them to get close enough so that the tender ride between ship and shore is short. And given how few passengers the ships carry, you'll never have to queue up to be shuttled back and forth -- it's practically on demand.
With many crewmembers having migrated to SeaDream from the Goddess days, meticulous attention to detail and personalized service are still the ships' greatest assets.
Traditional -- Dining is a high point of the SeaDream experience; it's roughly on a par with Windstar's cuisine, and just under Silversea and Seabourn. Daily five-course dinners in the Dining Salon include five entrees that change nightly, with a healthy selection always among them. Expect delicious dishes such as a hot and tangy prawn and fruit salad; sautéed sea scallops with cauliflower crème, herb lettuce, and potato crisps; and yellowfin tuna steak on roast zucchini and tomato compote. You'll also find a vegetarian option and a la carte items such as linguine with pesto and rosemary-marinated lamb chops. The kitchen will prepare special requests provided the ingredients are on board. Local specialties, such as fresh fish from markets in various ports, are likely to be incorporated into the menu. Open-seating dining is from 7:30 to 9:30pm, and table arrangements include everything from the nine-seat captain's table to cozier places for two (though during the evening rush, it's not easy to snag one). Generally, you'll be seated with other guests unless you don't want to, and by the second or third day of the cruise, many passengers prefer to sit at larger tables with new friends.
There are no formal evenings. Jackets are not required; some men wear them, but many just stick to collared shirts. On Heidi's cruise, passengers' interpretation of the informal dress code ranged from a classic navy blue sport jacket to Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt -- the latter frowned upon by the ship's manager, but generally overlooked. It's not easy to tell someone who paid several thousand dollars for his cruise to go back to his cabin to change clothes.
Guests can venture "out" for dinner by requesting a spot in advance at one of several private alcoves on Deck 6, or even on the bridge. These special dining opportunities may not be advertised heavily on board -- you'll have to ask for them.
Casual -- The partially covered, open-sided Topside Restaurant on Deck 5 serves breakfast and lunch daily, with guests choosing from a buffet or menu.
Snacks & Extras -- Room service is available 24 hours a day for those who don't want to pause their DVD player. You'll also find mini-sandwiches, wraps, pastries, and other snacks throughout the day in the Topside Restaurant's buffet area or at the pool. One afternoon on Heidi's cruise, waiters circulated by the pool at happy hour with trays of bloody marys and homemade mini-pizzas. For a real treat, you can ask for a generous (and complimentary) jumbo shrimp cocktail whenever the mood strikes; on our last cruise, the craving struck while we were soaking in the hot tub. Caviar is available, though it's no longer complimentary (except on special occasions); a 1-ounce portion goes for $32.
Dining highlights from the old Sea Goddess cruises are carried over here, including lavish beach barbecues, called the Champagne and Caviar Splash, on Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda. A buffet lunch, served on tables with linen and china, includes grilled shrimp and chicken, pork ribs, and plenty of side dishes.
The line's open-bar policy means that unlimited alcoholic beverages are served throughout the vessels, though cabin minifridges are stocked only with complimentary beer and soft drinks. If you want wine and spirits for your minifridge, you'll have to pay. Advance requests for favorite libations are encouraged. Each ship's wine cellar includes some 3,500 bottles, of which an excellent selection is complimentary.
Given the small number of guests and large number of crew, everyone is quick to satisfy whims and commit your name to memory. Make sure that your first drink is your favorite; you may find fresh ones reappearing automatically throughout the evening. The dining room waitstaff is courteous and knowledgeable, though a bit harried; even though dining is open seating, most passengers tend to eat about the same time each evening. As aboard the Silversea ships, cabin bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari amenities and guests all get a complimentary set of frumpy (but comfortable) SeaDream pajamas. Laundry, dry cleaning, and pressing are available, but there is no self-service laundry.
If hanging out can be considered an activity, you can do it well on a SeaDream cruise. Who can complain about summoning a waiter from the hot tub for a jumbo shrimp cocktail and a piña colada? The SeaDream experience is about being outdoors. The ship's main social hubs are not the indoor entertainment lounge or library, but out on deck at the Top of the Yacht Bar, Pool Deck, and sunbathing areas, where there are chaise longues, a pair of hammocks, and the line's much-touted ultrafirm Balinese sun beds. Upon request, you can even sleep on them under the stars with duvets and pillows. There's also a golf simulator up top, and below, a retractable marina for watersports and swimming, which operates a couple of hours a day in ports where the ship anchors, which is virtually everywhere in the Caribbean, but fewer ports in Europe. Cabins have DVD players and you can borrow a portable MP3 player from the reception desk (there are about 25, and they're preprogrammed with a wide selection of music). The ships carry along mountain bikes for use in port.
For those who consider a massage a beloved pastime -- like we do -- the ship's well-equipped spa and gym are very impressive for ships so small. Staffs of eight Thai women run the spas, which feature traditional therapies such as Swedish massage, along with Asian ones. Heidi sampled an excellent Thai massage during which the therapist used her arms and legs, as well as hands, to execute a variety of stretching moves. The adjacent oceanview gym has up-to-date equipment and daily classes such as tai chi and yoga.
One of the highlights of Caribbean cruises is an ultrapopular holdover from the Sea Goddess days, the lavish Champagne and Caviar Splash beach party thrown on Jost Van Dyke or Virgin Gorda. Guests are tendered ashore by Zodiac inflatable boats to a quiet beach, where chaise longues are set up on the sand and a nice buffet lunch is served in a rustic pavilion. The main event that gets the cameras clicking is when the manager and his assistants wade into the surf with their uniforms on and serve champagne and caviar from a floating surfboard. It appeals to the inner frat boy in all of us, and passengers of all types just loved the whole ritual on a recent cruise. The entire ship was happily treading through the water to partake of a glass (or two or three) of bubbly and a dollop of caviar, reveling in the frivolity of it. The buffet lunch is served on long tables (with linens and china). A pair of kayaks and snorkeling equipment was also provided, though few people had the energy to bother. Nearby, a local vendor was renting paddleboats, windsurfers, and other watercraft.
Evening entertainment is mostly of the socializing-over-drinks variety -- and that's how passengers seem to like it. This isn't generally a musical-loving cabaret crowd. Typically, a pianist plays after dinner in the Main Salon lounge, while a guitarist serenades diners at the entrance to the restaurant and sometimes afterward up on deck at the Top of the Yacht bar, the liveliest spot to hang out before and after dinner. Occasionally, local bands are brought on for the night, and there is a tiny casino area with two poker tables and a handful of slots. Weather permitting, on 1 night per cruise, a large movie screen is set up on deck so that passengers can watch a flick under the stars (with popcorn, of course).
Though the only actual restriction is that children under age 1 are prohibited, these ships are by no means kid-friendly. There are no babysitting services or child-related activities. Teens, though, may enjoy these cruises' emphasis on watersports and unstructured activities. Keep in mind, the standard Yacht Club staterooms can accommodate only three people; the third person/child sleeps on the couch (which doesn't pull out) and generally pays half of the full per-person rate. If you've got a larger family, you'll have to spring for two staterooms. The rate for a child up to age 12 is $100 per day and $200 per day for children ages 13 and older; in both cases, it is assumed that they'll be sharing a stateroom with two adults.