With SeaDream I (and sister SeaDream II), SeaDream Yacht Club has managed to carve out a unique niche for itself. SeaDream, created in 2001 when a former Seabourn honcho acquired Cunard's pair of Sea Goddesses, is the most genuine small-ship ultimate-flexibility cruise experience in the industry. A lot of cruise lines, particularly luxury ones, market themselves as offering land resort-like flexibility, but SeaDream really delivers on that promise.
What was most distinctive about our voyage on the 4,260-ton, 110-passenger SeaDream I, a Caribbean cruise, wasn't only that we were sailing on a smaller, more intimate ship with consistently top-notch cuisine and service, but also the ambience. Playing with its "yacht club" theme, dress was always informal (and stylish) and the onboard atmosphere was casual -- there were no force-festive "group" activities.
SeaDream I itself is a lovely ship; it looks nothing like it did uring its moldering days as a Sea Goddess ship. Two major distinctions -- and two reasons (as if we needed them) why we're ready to sail again -- are its sports platform that opens off the back, with plenty of sports toys (from kayaks and a Sunfish sail boat to water skis and even a Jet ski!), and its Balinese beds. Clustered around the smokestack on the ship's top deck, these double-sized uber-comfortable loungers are set on a platform above the railing and are great spots for everything from sunbathing to sunset-watching.
Another major plus? The ship truly adheres to one of the industry's most all-inclusive philosophies. Everything from cocktails to caviar and from the golf simulator to bikes for use in port is tabbed in the fare, as are gratuities.
We'll offer one potential downside to the ultra-small-ship SeaDream experience -- and this is meant more as a heads-up than a warning. Because of both ships' small size, they've become quite ideal to folks, from companies to incentive groups to (really) large gaggles of family and friends, and as such are chartered more frequently than other ships. And there is a potential that individual travelers could get bumped, even from confirmed voyages. The good news? The company never charters both ships at the same time, so travelers can usually transfer bookings.
While limited in number, the ship's public areas hit all the bases. The Main Lounge is its indoor all-ship gathering area; it housed everything from pre-dinner cocktails (including a captain's welcome reception) to films. The casino has two tables and a handful of slots. The library is the most gorgeous room on the ship, amazingly large and very well-stocked. A pair of Internet-connected terminals is located there. The ship has a tiny boutique with quite an interesting range of items, from perfume to gorgeous accessories.
Dining was top-notch, from morning to night. SeaDream I offered just enough choice so there was always something that appealed -- and yet not so many options that the quality suffered. First and most important point: All meals, regardless of venue, were all open seating, all the time.
Breakfast was typically served at the Topside Restaurant. Located on one of the ship's top decks, this restaurant was had a "ceiling" of whimsically-shaped canvas so there was always shade, but tables were scattered around the deck as well (we particularly loved a cozy banquette located both port and starboard). At breakfast, you could choose from a small array of cereals, fruits, breads and yogurt at a mini-buffet, and then order hot dishes from a menu. Lunch, too, was served at the Topside and its menus typically consisted of gourmet fare prepared with a light touch.
Dinner locales varied. On hotter nights we dined in the Main Dining Salon. It, like the Topside, featured plenty of options for dining for two, four or more, and was elegant in a low-key way. On a couple of really gorgeous evenings, dinner was served at Topside -- and that was absolutely our favorite venue.
Spa and vegetarian items were offered on all menus.
House-selected wine was copiously poured at lunch and dinner. For those who want to splurge, SeaDream has an excellent wine list.
The 24-hour room service menu was fairly limited but offerings were excellent. One of the best items was caviar with the appropriate accouterments. We don't mind admitting that it became a daily afternoon ritual for us (and quite a few other passengers). And what was really fun was that "room service" would deliver anywhere on the ship -- so we enjoyed our daily caviar treat poolside, on a Balinese bed, as we sailed between St. Lucia's Twin Pitons, and at the Top of the Yacht Club bar.
True to SeaDream philosophy, cabins (on this ship they're all considered suites) are not designed so that passengers will hibernate. There are just three categories of staterooms. Standard suites, at 195 square ft., are fairly small, particularly for a luxury ship, but the accouterments are state-of-the-art -- including a flat screen television, a DVD player (the purser's desk has an excellent collection from which to borrow) and a CD player. Marvelous quality barware is provided and mini-fridges are stocked, on a complimentary basis, with juice, soda and beer.
Beds are outfitted with the softest linens and with duvets. There's an adjoining living area with a couch. The refurbishment gurus who redesigned the bathrooms worked wonders; yes, they're small (don't even try to get ready at the same time as your suite-mate) but the shower is fabulous -- big enough for two and with multiple shower heads. Bathrobes are provided, and the terry-combed combination was so fabulous we bought one to take home.
The Commodore category is literally two of these staterooms put together. Other than the extra space they seemed less cozy and attractive, oddly enough, than the standard models. Up another notch is the owner's suite. That's worth a splurge if spacious accommodations really do matter. It features a completely separate living-dining area and bedroom (both are equipped with SeaDream's state-of-the-art electronics). What we loved most was the bathroom, with a whirlpool tub and separate shower and a window!
No cabins have balconies.
One highlight of the SeaDream experience was turn-down. Nearly every night we'd return to our cabin to find a gift. They vary, depending on the sailing, but ours ranged from the usual (chocolates) to the unusual (his-'n'-her pajamas) to the unforgettable (our stewardess sprinkled rose petals across the bed).
This is not a ship we'd recommend for passengers with disabilities though it does have a small elevator.
There are no kids' facilities or services onboard, and though young folks are welcome we wouldn't necessarily recommend SeaDream for families.
Passengers tend to dress in varying levels of country club casual, whether it's poolside, at lunch in the dining room or at dinner.
All tips are included in the cruise fare.
There was little in the way of entertainment -- aside from rollicking good conversations with fellow passengers -- and nobody seemed to mind at all. The ship features a lounge where movies are shown and there was a resident band (occasionally couples danced). The most convivial nighttime spot was the Piano Bar. SeaDream I also has a pocket-sized casino, with two tables and a handful of slot machines.
|Fitness and Recreation|
We loved the ship's intimate Wellness Center with Asian Spa. Its signature treatment -- and it's not to be missed -- is the Signature Relaxation Massage; by the end I was in such a lull I'd forgotten my own name. One interesting touch is that the spa packages treatments so you can indulge in a day-long mini-spa break. The ship's small fitness facility offers the basics.
The biggest hit was the SeaDream I's marina, and twice during our cruise our captain anchored so we could use it. It's outfitted with the aforementioned "toys" as well as a banana boat. SeaDream I and sibling SeaDream II are the only ships whose water platforms also include jet skis.
For the most part, passengers we met might otherwise have been sailing on Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas or Windstar but were looking for an experience that was more laid back without sacrificing service, cuisine and comfort. Folks hail primarily from North America and Europe; age averages in the 40 - 60 range.
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