Last updated: 11:48 AM ET, Mon November 30 2015


SeaDream sails in a cozy niche of upscale, yet relaxed yacht-like cruises

Vacation Agent | Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton


PHOTO: The twin mega-yachts can nose into less-visited ports in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. (Photo courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club)

SeaDream Yacht Club figured out long ago that even well-heeled travelers like to leave the high heels at home on vacation. But even if they are dressing down, they don’t want to forego luxury. And so this little two-ship cruise line has created a cozy niche for itself, giving upscale vacationers an experience that is close to a private yacht voyage. In fact, the company’s tagline is, “It’s yachting, not cruising.”

The two seagoing gems, the aptly named SeaDream I and SeaDream II, carry 112 passengers at the max, with no less than 95 crewmembers to serve them. Many times, the vessels carry about 90 guests, so the crew-to-passenger ratio is often 1:1 or better.

As you can imagine, that leads to unprecedented levels of service and pampering as the ships nose into small, unspoiled ports, primarily throughout the Caribbean and Europe.

Unpretentious Elegance
The overall experience is the epitome of casual elegance without a trace of pretension from either the crew or your fellow guests. What’s more, SeaDream has a delightful sense of humor that shows in a number of surprisingly fun events, including sleeping under the stars on deck and the line’s fabulous Champagne & Caviar Splash beach party.

SeaDream I and II regularly earn five-star ratings in the Boutique Ships category in the “Berlitz Ocean Cruising and Cruise Ships” guidebook. And SeaDream was recently proclaimed “The Best Small Luxury Cruise Ship of 2015” by a contributor to the Forbes Life website. Those types of endorsements are important to a very small, niche cruise line that flies under the radar for a lot of people.

“Any recognition is important to us, and we were honored to receive it,” said SeaDream President Bob Lepisto. “For a small company like ours, we really depend on word-of-mouth from highly satisfied guests and third-party endorsements like that. It feels so good to know that guests getting off our ships become an important part of our sales team.”

Who can resist telling friends and family about sleeping out on deck or the plentiful caviar and free-flowing champagne on the beach? I have to admit, it’s been years since I slept outside, but this was an experience I couldn’t pass up. Each ship yacht has 11 Balinese beds, which are double-wide sun loungers with thick cushions. The ones at the front of the ship are the biggest, quietest and most private, and are usually reserved first by those in the know. It’s recommended to reserve a spot at the reception desk early in the cruise.

Little cards with passenger names are taped to each bed to show who it is reserved for. The Balinese beds are made up just like the beds in the staterooms, with a bottom sheet, duvets and pillows. No, the cushions are not as comfortable as the beds in the staterooms, but it’s still cozy to curl up in the duvet as the ship gently rocks into the night.

Plus, early in the cruise, a set of SeaDream logo pajamas is delivered to every stateroom with names embroidered on the long-sleeve T-shirt, which is paired with plaid, elastic-waist cotton pants. Every guest gets a pair of the comfy jammies, which are the perfect attire for a night under the stars.

SeaDream has been offering the sleeping under the stars experience since it was founded in 2001. “It’s one of our signatures,” Lepisto says. “We don’t monitor it, but I think a lot of people don’t realize how early the sun comes up. I wouldn’t be surprised if most find their way down to their staterooms at 4 or 5 o’clock. And that’s one thing our guests absolutely love about our staterooms — they have black-out curtains.”

Caviar on the Beach
The Champagne & Caviar Splash also is a blast. The crew sets up a surfboard on a beach where a barbecue lunch is also prepared. On my SeaDream II Caribbean cruise in February, it took place on Jost Van Dyke, a British Virgin Island that remains little populated and rustic. SeaDream’s lunch is set up in a fairly private area, but within walking distance of the dive bars that line White Bay beach, including the famed Soggy Dollar Bar.

PHOTO: The staff sets up the surfboard bar for the Champagne & Caviar Splash. (Photo by Theresa Norton Masek)

Most of the time, the surfboard bar is set up in the water, but it was a bit rough the day we were there, so it was put on a table on the beach. The champagne and caviar were put on ice and the party started.

That wasn’t the only time I saw the easily recognizable blue tins of caviar. They were also visible during one or two of the pre-dinner cocktail parties, the most caviar I’ve seen on a cruise in years.

“We have caviar available at our club-member party, at the Champagne & Caviar Splash and in some of the entrées as well,” Lepisto says. “I think we have a nice amount of caviar. We’re not trying to overdo it, but our guests do love it and it’s part of our offerings.”

When the ships are in Europe, sailing through the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Turkey and the Black Sea from May through October, the Champagne & Caviar Splash is replaced by a Shaken Not Stirred party on board. “If we’re in the Med and don’t have a private beach, we do a martini, champagne and caviar party around the pool,” he says.

When SeaDream says its small ships are like yachts, it’s true in that the sea is never far away. Although the main Dining Salon is indoors, breakfast and lunch — and a number of dinners — are held in the outdoor Topside Restaurant. Guests can select their own table in the main part of the restaurant or tucked away in a private spot on deck.

“Confluence Cuisine”
The company describes its food as “Confluence Cuisine,” in that it is a melding of many flavors and cultures. For example, lunch includes salads, burgers and hot dogs, a soup of the day (eggplant and rosemary or ratatouille), a pasta dish (farfalle carbonara or penne con fungi), a bistro-style sandwich (tuna melt or open-face tomato-mozzarella), a vegetarian selection, and an Asian choice (pad Thai or shrimp fried rice with chicken sate). Selections prepared à la minute might include a blue-cheese burger or grilled plaice.

The options widen at dinner, when guests are presented with the chef’s recommendations, including escargot, Thai beef salad, roast prime rib, grilled halibut, osso bucco, pistachio-crusted pork tenderloin and supreme of free-range chicken. Always-available selections include homemade truffle tagliatelle, Atlantic salmon, peppercorn-rubbed chicken breast, New Zealand lamb lollipops and New York cut steak from Kansas.

SeaDream also has “raw food” options, which are vegan foods heated to no more than 118 degrees. Proponents believe that this style of preparation doesn’t destroy the nutrition or flavor of the food.

Before and after dinner, guests gather in a number of lounges, including the outdoor Top of the Yacht Bar, the main salon and, later in the evening, the Piano Bar to select and sing favorite tunes.

Well-Designed Staterooms
The staterooms are nicely furnished and designed, but as the ship was built in 1985 (as the uber-luxurious Sea Goddess), they don’t have balconies. The Yacht Club Staterooms measure 195 square feet and have large picture windows on Decks 3 and 4 or two portholes on Deck 2. They have an entertainment center with flat-screen television, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station, a marble-lined bathroom with multi-jet shower and Bulgari amenities, Belgian linens, down duvets, bathrobes and slippers, stocked mini-fridge, safe and hairdryer.

The eight Commodore Suites are made by combining two Yacht Club Staterooms, while the Admiral Suite is 375 square feet and the Owner’s Suite measures 447 square feet.

During the day, the company offers shore excursions as well as more casual outings. On my cruise, for example, the club director Hayden would announce that he was leading a hike and anyone was welcome to join him.

“We call them ‘shoreside casuals.’ When we’re in the Med, great examples would be our chef taking guests to the market in places like St. Tropez or Sorrento,” Lepisto says. “Another example would be the captain taking guests on a hike up to Anacapri and back down to the yacht. I’m hosting a voyage from Istanbul to Athens departing Aug. 29. I’m going to surprise guests with a hike on the little island of Hydra to the monastery — with the captain.”

It all combines to create a truly relaxing holiday for discerning, stylish and down-to-earth travelers. So what’s next for SeaDream? Any chance for expansion with more ships?

“We’re very pleased with our current two beautiful mega-yachts,” Lepisto says. “We are owned by entrepreneur Atle Brynestad who does have a vision for expanding, although no announcements or no decisions are imminent.”

If the company did expand, a newbuild would be likely, Lepisto says, although buying existing tonnage is a possibility. “If the right opportunity presented itself, that would be evaluated as well,” he says. “Once the decision is made, assuming it is a newbuild, it would be in the neighborhood of two years for a vessel of our size to be built. Business is good, and I do have optimistic feelings for the future that an announcement will come. As to when it could happen, that’s hard to say.”

We’ll keep our fingers crossed.


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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the June 2015 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.


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