Citavechia, Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Portovenere, Portofino, Nice
Arrival -- Arrived by car after a 45 minute car ride from Rome at around 3:30 p.m. , one couple checking in as we arrived ... all of our baggage was quickly whisked away, we were greeted by Jimmie the dining room manager who we knew from a previous sea goddess cruise. We checked in under a shaded tent and provided our passports, a credit card for on board charges and were quickly sent up the gangplank in less then 10 minutes...once upstairs we meet other crew members and were poured a glass of GERMAIN cremant champagne and was escorted into the main salon where servers were waiting for us to order other cocktails or soft drinks as well as present a small buffet of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. After enjoying this for ten minutes we moved to the main reception area on the 3rd floor and meet our housekeeper/steward Joie who showed us to our cabin number 209. Upon opening the room the mountains of luggage we arrived with (8 bags in total -- please do not ask why) were neatly stacked in the room.. Joie explained that after unpacking she could stow our baggage as well as helped us find secret stowage space under the bed (enough for two computer bags and two large suitcases.
Cabin -- We booked late and were distressed that we were in a cabin on the bottom floor with two portholes instead of a picture window. We actually contemplated paying thousands of dollars to upgrade to a cabin on the fourth floor. After being in cabin 402 on sea goddess we really saw no difference at all in the cabin. The difference in the port holes compared to the picture window was not a major issues either and we would have been wasting money to "upgrade."
The layout was quite simple but very logical. The queen size bed was more than adequate for us even though we have a special oversized king bed we sleep in at home. The sheets and pillowcases were Frette and high thread count, very comfortable. The sleeping top was pretty strange though as they covered the bed with two twin comforters. It was not very good. When we asked to make the bed up with a single comforter the only offer was to use a single brown blanket that was not very appealing. The bed was turned down each night and covered with a simple terry type cover each day.
Stowage and closets were plentiful and handled the thirty days worth of clothing we brought for this 7 day cruise easily. Large closet dived into two parts, left side for floor length hanging and right side in two parts - top and bottom for slacks and tops. Desk surrounded by three large drawers on each side and closet buffeted by four shelves for stacking shoes and the like (we had 23 pairs with us!). Hangers were wood, plentiful and had full sized hangers and hooks.
Electronics included a DVD player and small flat screen monitor, television included cnn worldwide, a live camera from the bridge and I really can not remember much else as we never really turned the tv on in our room.
1 Power outlet for U.S and 1 for European connectors were neatly installed over the desks as well as an Ethernet connection for what was fairly slow satellite internet service...but not complaining having internet in the room was awesome!
Bathroom was especially well planned out, toilet immediately facing you upon entry on the left of the room, single sink in the middle with well planned space shelves to the left for toothbrushes and the like. We used a cubby hole outside for toiletries and cosmetics and it worked out well. Balance of the room is made up of a large marble shower which was huge by ship standards. Water flow was awesome and the shower was hand held but had a neat feature to direct water from additional nozzles that sprayed from hip and knee length, very cool. Toiletries were Bulgaria green tea, in bar soap, small sized bath gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. Towels had the sea dream logo and were "waffle" type, 4 wash towels, two hand towels and two bath size sheets refreshed twice daily.
Safe was typical hotel variety, self programmed and very useful. Small refrigerator was well stocked with wine, beer, soda and champagne. Four liter+ sized water bottles were always re-stocked and our ice bucket was never void of ice during the day and before turning in.
Room was made up each day and night and accommodated our sleeping preferences and night times; we never "caught" them cleaning our room. Special little treats were left each evening and upon our anniversary our bed was made up with towels twisted into kissing swans and rose petals on our bed.
Exercise/Gym -- Exercise room consisted of 5 tread mills, two bikes, one elliptical trainer, weight machine with typical rectangular stations and a bench of free weights and mats. Plenty of audio/visual devices as each aerobic machine had its own TV and there were two plasma screens on the wall. Room is on fourth floor with floor to ceiling windows looking over ship's prow. Plenty of bottled water available and rolled up burgundy towels available. Exercise classes were one daily yoga class that I saw on the first day but never again.
Room was barely used on this voyage with never more than three machines and one weight trainer during peak morning hours. Room was advertised open from specific hours but was open at 4 a.m. one morning and midnight another evening. Interesting tip bit was there were no free weights less than 25 pounds so my wife was out of luck but we did not inquire if there were any smaller available. Headsets were available for the tvs but almost everyone was ipodded and in their own world while using this room.
Breakfast -- Fabulous service each morning by a hustling crew. Anything you could think of was available and daily suggestions were offered; eggs Florentine, banana French toast, etc.
Large cereal, fruit and bread bar was fresh and remarkable always looking neat and clean. Drinks were poured immediately upon sitting and each knew your preference by the end of the second day's meal. Cooked to order meals were served on white china and the eggs benedict were outstanding, pancakes were very cake like and eggs were fresh and local. Each morning steak and lamb chops were available for protein seekers and we done perfectly each day.
Breakfast was served from 7:30 to 10 a.m. each morning and as the weather was great each day was outside in the 5th and 6th floor areas. Plenty of tables were available including cute built ins on the side and aft of the ship. Most folks tended to eat in the same spot each day and the routine was very comfortable and relaxed.
A coffee and bread bar was available as early as 6:30 most mornings and always before 7 a.m. -- I had people offer to get me a coffee as early as 5:30 a.m. one morning while tending to cleaning and setting up service.
Beverage Services -- Champagne service was never ending. The brand served was GERMAIN, and cremant and brut versions were interchanged often without regard. It made for a very interesting selection to say the least. The brut was crisp and dry and tasted oaky with a hint of vanilla, the cremant was overly sweet and almost displeasing on the front end but finished off nicely. If you ordered a glass you had no idea what would arrive and most of the crew had no idea they were serving two different wines. We had some cruisers who had made the previous voyage and they said the champagne offered on the previous week's voyage was Pommery blue and they were pleased with the change to the Germain.
All cocktail pours used good labeled spirits including Myers and Bacardi rums, Absolut, Stolichnaya and Ketel One vodkas, Johnnie Walker Red for no extra charge. There was a charge for "premium liquors" but that would mean you wanted to pay for Grey Goose over Absolut, Stoli or Ketel One. I saw no one buying the premiums and there really was no need.
A group of British ales were offered as well as the usual Heinekin, Budweiser, Amstel et all at no extra charge.
Wine was dreadful at the bars as a sickening sweet chardonnay and dishwater like pinot grigio were offered standard at the bars. Wine service at dinner was much better and a decent selection of reds and whites from around the world appeared for no charge each night. Mostly these were $10 to $20 retail value wines that were well chosen - some exceptional ones but a few duds as well.
The wine available on the supplemental wine list was the biggest surprise of the ship. Not only was the selection exceptional but the prices were below retail value in the US. Examples included an exceptional 1999 Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages for $80 US, a 2000 Caymus Special Select for $125, and a 1995 Grange for $200. Excellent cabs, chards, bordeaux, burgundies, pinots and champagnes could be found for $30 to $60.
We also brought along some special wines for the trip and the staff was happy to cork them for no fee at meals or anytime for us. We even purchased wines ashore and brought them along and they were opened without the thought of a "corkage" fee.
Fun cocktails made there way to the pool and top side each day and Richard the top side bartender greeted us with a vodka infused watermelon he made overnight after we had been out sight seeing on a very warm afternoon. What a great treat it was as twelve of us enjoyed the drunken melon and its sweet juices!
Recognition -- Staff knew everyone's name quickly and you were always greeted with a smile and a hello. This was done very well and made everyone feel like they belonged. A special reception was held for recurring guests and the captain entertained two couples most evenings. For those of you who have suffered through one of these you know it can be painful and while this captain tries hard, the recognition it offers is not quite worth putting this nice man through what is obviously not his strong suit -- making small talk. I must say when it comes to Captain's dinners this captain ranks in the top 10 percent but still this is a ritual that is long past due retiring.
Tours / Activities Director -- James our activities "dude" was hard working and incredibly effective. He pulled out hard to get reservations at key spots and each service was handled perfectly, private cars at ports were on time, clean with English speaking drivers. Private boats were arranged without a flaw. There were not many organized group trips and the ones that were arranged we did not participate in. Some of the port tours did not gain enough interest to be held and James took it upon himself to personally lead shore based walking tours instead. Feedback from other passengers was very positive on both the escorted tours and James' walking trips.
Each evening before dinner James reviewed the day's activities and previewed the next. A man of genuine warmth he worked the crowd well and exhibited almost too much local knowledge of the ports of call. All in all a 9+ out of 10 for a very hard working young man with a dedicated support team.
Lunch Service -- We ate off the boat most days but on one afternoon we stayed aboard and were treated to a great repast of tender cooked barbecue ribs and caesar salad made to order with grilled shrimp or warm chopped-up turkey breast. Lunch was a huge hit was only exceeded by ice cream and cookies for lunch that were both made on ship, the coconut macaroons especially tasty.
Pool Side Sunning -- Sun chairs were narrow metal chairs in three parts; back, thigh and foot areas covered by a three inch blue pad that gave good support. Chairs were plentiful and shade areas could be found on deck 4 and 5 for fair skinned folk. The pool was cold and never used. The hot tub was sufficiently warm, but as there was a group of 28 on board together the hot tub was dominated by this group and a source of frustration for a few ship mates.
There were also a few small children and ten or so teens aboard who typically were louder than most adult couples would like to be around. They were easily avoided though and behaved better than most but a few examples of feeding seagulls (left over fruit from drinks and bread procured from the lunch area) and then pretending to shot them with a make believe rifle were disturbing to say the least.
Top Side Sunning - Sun Beds -- The Balinese sun beads, two person lounge chairs perched above the ships rail on deck 5 were a big hit. Comfortable and inviting, the crew would add a sun umbrella upon request. And while very popular it seemed easy to obtain a chair and no one played the game of reserving them all day with a book or hat. Food and beverage orders were taken easily by the crew and delivered promptly, more so for drinks than food.
Caviar -- These ships, especially in their previous incantation as the Sea Goddess were known for free caviar, anytime anywhere. Alas, no longer, caviar is a $26 charge whenever ordered but done well every time. The two exceptions were the second night captains cocktail party where caviar was available on the buffet and people did indulge themselves. Also one afternoon a group of staff jumped in the cold pool and served champagne and caviar to all who would like. A fun presentation it will be remembered by all who participated.
Sports Platform/Marina -- Two jet skis and a banana boat were offered for two hours each afternoon in port. They were especially well received by the children on board but it was easy to gain a turn on each and proper supervision and flotation gear was always provided. After two hours the gas powered toys were put away and swimming was permitted off the rear platform. Lines and buoys were pulled off the back for swimmers to guide themselves by. This service was done very well and the crew should be proud of their work here.
Pre-Dinner Cocktail Reception -- Each evening at 7 pm a cocktail party was held in the main salon. Piano music was played by the ship's pianist and he was aided by a drum synthesizer. It served as background music as beverages and a full buffet of cold and hot appetizers were offered. Just at conclusion James the activities director would give his speel on the current and upcoming day's activities.
Dinner -- Dinner service alternated between the formal room on deck two and the outdoor dining area on deck 5. Determining factor seemed to be whenever the weather would allow and the ship was staying late in port we would eat outside. Also each night four tables were set up aft on deck 4 for those who wanted to eat outside when the main dining room was being used.
These were not advertised as available and you could reserve them by simply asking the dining room manager or reception during the day that you wished to sit outside that evening. At all dining sites tables of two, four, six or as many as 12 were allowed, with people who came aboard as groups eating together, a few couples who seemed very comfortable in the own company dining by themselves and groups of four or six new friends brought together to simply share a meal and get to know each other a bit.
Food was continental with traditional starter, salad/soup, main course and dessert offered each night. A full vegetarian meal (with very creative offerings) was printed each evening as well as an "a la carte menu" of pasta, fish, poultry and meat if one did not care for the presentation of the main courses. Orders were taken with great care and mixing and matching - having two starters and a salad perhaps - as well as substitutions were handled effortlessly.
The plating presentations were decorated well and the main courses were all served with a silver dome that would be raised in synch by as many servers as diners divided by two. This was fun and elegant on night one but they need to add a twist as it became tedious by night seven.
We sent an entire meal back one night and it was whisked away without complaint and new orders replaced more promptly than one could imagine. Service mistakes were minimal. The serving crew actually worked their tails off and all in all dinner was a highlight of the trip.
After Dinner - Piano Bar -- Mr. Macintosh, the ship's lone pianist played Broadway and pop standards each evening from 10 pm till the last group retired here each evening. This bar also serves as a staging area for the blackjack tables that are located directly across from the bar as well as for the internet cafe in the library just aft of the bar.
The music was pleasant enough and people friendly but mostly done by midnight or so each evening. No major activity occurred but pleasant conversation with nice folks and an occasional sing along to a familiar song from the piano. Don the bartender was very attentive and was actually really good at mixing drinks -- his "Dirty Apple" Martini was a big hit.
After Dinner - Main Salon -- This was usually a ghost town, where feature films were played five of the seven nights to an audience of six or eight people. Films included Million Dollar Baby and semi-recent such fare from a large DLP projector that had good overall picture quality and very good sound. On one evening the activities director turned into a DJ and we had a "disco/nightclub" night that was primarily enjoyed by the group of 28 family members who were on the trip together (a stunningly beautiful family by the way).
This was the one ship event that the group "owned" and others felt a bit left out. The other major event was a Broadway review night that was held here - a good try at entertainment but I am sure most felt a better use of time could have been found.
After Dinner - Top of the Yacht -- This was by far the most active after dinner area. Richard the bartender spins music from a list of several hundred songs that one could request from. The music was played in various volume levels over a decent stereo system depending on size and attitude of the crowd.
Drinks were easy to obtain and being outside on warm evenings watching the coast of Italy pass by was especially rewarding. Mostly this broke up around midnight as well. A group who had sailed the previous week and continued on this voyage said the week before this was an incredibly active location on the ship. Some famous former rock and rollers were aboard and played an impromptu concert that kept them partying all night long.
Conversations with the crew confirmed that each cruise seems to have its own rhythm, while ours was pretty genteel and subdued; I heard some interesting tales of pole dancers and let's just say behavior not seen at my country club in the states. No doubt if that is going to happen, this is the place for it, but I can not imagine that will occur very often on this ship.
Spa/Salon Services -- Biggest upgrade of the ship for us from Sea Goddess days to Sea Dream. This spa and salon gained an A++ from each of us, the Thai therapists were pleasant, competent, friendly, enthusiastic and professional. Massages were offered Thai (no oil) or Swedish (oil) style and each therapist asked about pressure points and how much pressure one would like.
Treatment rooms were small but incredibly clean. Standard spa routine of disrobing while the attendant is out of the room and then climbing under sheets (Frette) to lay face down when the attendant returns to the room.
The most peculiar aspect was each massage was completed with the therapist asking you to sit up on the table, wherein she would proceed to climb up and massage your back in an upright manner, pretty strange. Prices were moderate -- averaging 75 to 125 for a treatment or series. A minty foot massage combined with a Swedish massage ran $145 and was executed wonderfully.
Pedicures and manicures as well as hair services were available as well. The pedicure was done in "spa" style with a comfy chair and paraffin available. Hair services were offered but I found no one who used it.
Sleeping Under the Stars -- One of the more intriguing aspects of this ship is watching the housekeeping crew turn the sun beds on deck six into sleeping arrangements each evening. There are three sets of the sun beds on the ship -- four double and one single bed on each side of the ship and a "quad" (four twin mattress) bed up forward on the prow.
Bed linens were arranged each evening upon request and a fun adventure would ensue. PJ's and bedding attire were changed into and lights were turned down and music turned off in the adjoining "Top of the Yacht" bar for the sleepers. The beds turned out to be too firm for most and no matter how you avoid it there is always someone lurking about on the top deck so while interesting it is a non-private way to get some sleep. We lasted until about 3 a.m....however I do have to report that another couple actually used this experience to have sex up top...it was truly revolting and makes this board's bombasts about children on the ship seem very trivial...
There is also no doubt the beds on the forward part of the ship are the only way to really sleep on top, request that bed as it is private, much quieter and you do not have to breathe the ship's exhaust all evening if the wind is blowing the wrong way (I heard a story of a couple who woke up with black soot all over their faces as the wind went wrong on them!). Reservations were made at the reception desk at any time during the cruise.
Casino -- There is no casino on board, just two black-jack tables that are hosted by the surliest and most unfriendly people on the planet. The story goes that Sea Dream contracted out these tables to a third party company who provides the eastern European dealers, what a mistake.
This was by far the most disappointing part of the experience. Most nights the tables were empty as no one could possible enjoy playing here. Cards were dealt as fast as possible, no comments or banter was allowed and winning was hard to come by.
We meet one of the dealers on a tender going into shore and we asked her why she did not try and have some fun and make it a more enjoyable experience. She said she felt that the people should stay in the bar and keep their money and not throw it away on her table.
Regardless no other games or slot machines are available and wow, does this part of Sea Dream need improvement.
Fellow Passengers -- The passengers were diverse, fun and primarily nice folk who were really enjoying themselves. The vast majority Americans in their 50s and 60s but a smattering of Brits and Canadians as well. Most were professionals or corporate or self-employed business people. Banter about the current and next port, children, work, home and other vacation experiences dominated conversation that was very easy to strike up and always a fun part of cruising. No one was overly forward and several couples tended to themselves quite happily. A few young children and ten or so tens were there from a large family group as well as one family of five who had three teens with them.
Ports of Call -- By far Portofino and Positano were very well received by all. The upscale shops and eateries were populated all day long by our shipmates. Lunching at upscale resorts was a game enjoyed by a block of us who sampled San Pietro and La Sireneuse on Positano, La Palma on Capri and Splendido in Portofino.
Sorrento was used by most as a launch pad to visit Pompeii. Capri is a choice between a stroll along the commercial area at the port or a cable car ride up to Anacapri. Here one finds designer stores the like found in a high end Taubman mall in the US. Some visited the tourist trap Blue Grotto and most chalked it up to "do it once...."
Giglio was an unusual choice for a port but worked out well. A small island off of Tuscany it was quiet and picturesque and made for a nice lazy day compared to the usual bus trip to Florence or other major tourist spot.
Portovenere was my favorite but that opinion was not shared by all. The small port is a base to visit the Cinque Terra which could be explored by foot (5+ hour hike), train, boat or any combination of such.
One disappointment was that every port we visited needed tender service. There is nothing better than just hopping off Sea Dream whenever one feels like it when docked. A (very) mild disappointment as the tender service was done efficiently and we never waited more then ten minutes for service when the ship was allowed to use their own tenders. On the island of Capri, they had to use local tenders and it ran on a schedule of every half hour service. This worked well but just did not have the same "we are here for you service" that we received from using the ship's tenders.
Ship Store -- This was basically a glass cabinet of logo wear with Sea Dream emblems on hats, t shirts, polos, shorts and running attire. Some jewelry was offered but this will not be anything that will kill even more than 15 minutes on a rainy day.
Medical Services -- Dr. Mark was the best ship's doctor anyone could ever ask for. We visited him twice - once to help with an ailing broken (pre-trip) arm and another to help stave off a sore throat / cold. On both experiences he seemed like he was truly excited about trying to help someone and he offered a host of cold presses and antibiotics to support his quick prognosis. He followed up repeatedly during the voyage to see if he could offer more assistance and to check on recovery. This guy is really special.
Departure -- Leaving this ship is much harder emotionally than physically. We docked in Nice and the evening before were asked to pack our bags and have them outside the state room by one am. Charge statements for incidental charges were put out by 3 am and were automatically settled to the card presented on arrival. Explanations and mistakes were handled at the reception desk on the third floor and never did I see more than one person waiting at a time.
A full breakfast was served on departure morning and we were asked to vacate by 10 a.m. We left around 9:30 -- a steward was more than helpful carrying our two hand cases off the ship for us.
We quickly found our entire set of luggage (six pieces!!!) was neatly arranged together under a tent to shade it from the sun. Baggage men help us load our bags into our pre-arranged car and we set off, rested, happy, full and thinking of how and when we can re-arrange our lives to get back on this fabulous ship.