After having a drink and snack at the outdoor lounge at the Mencey, we chose to take a taxi to the port and arrived shortly after the scheduled 2:00 p.m. time listed in the pre-cruise documents. We were greeted by a variety of SeaDream officers/crew as well as the Captain. Check in procedures took less than five minutes and we were given a glass of champagne, and were quickly shown to our cabin, stateroom #317. Within minutes of arrival, our room stewardess came and introduced herself, gave us an overview of the cabin, and ensured that we had everything we required (enough hangers, storage space for luggage, etc.), and our luggage arrived.
After unpacking, we quickly found our way to the Top of the Yacht bar and met the first of many gregarious passengers on board - a couple on their honeymoon. They were old timers as they had been onboard for a week.
The yacht was lovely and designed for both the sun lovers and the shade seekers. Other reports give an excellent overview of the facilities so I will only touch on certain areas.
There were many DVD's available at reception. The library was well stocked with games and books (with the exception of paperback, current novels). There were two computers. Passengers can purchase an internet card that is loaded with minutes. Though we thought the price was reasonable, time was not just based on connection time. Approximately one to three minutes is lost every time the computer is used. However, when there was a power outage and the computer connection was lost, reception recharged the card for many more minutes than the minutes that were lost. This was much appreciated!
The spa was amazing for a ship this size and it really was a spa - setting, products, music, theme, etc. Though the individual rooms were compact, there was no feeling of claustrophobia. The spa staff were not pushy, did not try and sell any product, and provided top quality service.
Passengers have to go through the spa to get to the exercise facility. It is listed as open from 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., but there were passengers who often used it outside those hours as it was always unlocked. The facility has four treadmills which face the full length windows so that one can choose between watching the ocean and/or watching a television (each machine has its own); two bikes which face a wall which has a giant screen television that is shared by the two machines; free weights/mirrored wall; a weight machine; an elliptical machine which faces the door leading to the spa; and a variety of mats that can be used for floor exercises. The room is kept extremely clean and fresh towels and water are provided.
The ship offered a morning walk at 10:30 a.m. on deck 6, but by then it was hot, and the deck does not provide shade. Most days, I did my walk at around 6:00 a.m. and it was perfect as there were not large numbers of people to dodge, the temperature was pleasant, and I did not feel like I was intruding on the people sleeping on the Bali beds as they had already woken up with the sunrise or were oblivious to their surroundings.
On our crossing, the passengers we met ranged in age from their 20's to 80's. They came from all over the world, and were a diverse group. Despite such a variety of personalities, SeaDream was the perfect setting. Passengers tended to congregate in different locations depending upon whether they wanted sun/shade; quiet/socializing; play cards/games; smoking/non-smoking; etc. Each of the bars on board had its own personality and everyone had a place they could go and feel comfortable. We have cruised other small luxury ships, but have never experienced the atmosphere aboard the SeaDream . At times, it was truly electric - especially crossing the equator, and at the champagne and caviar splash - and never have we met more passengers filled with the joie de vivre.
We had three individuals (perhaps more) on board who celebrated birthdays. They made arrangements (not sure if it was through the Hotel Manager, Tomasz Jadczyk, or the Maitre d Hotel, Donatas) to set up a Pre-Birthday Cocktails in the Piano Bar. Invitations were typed up and delivered to staterooms. At the party, crew handed out glasses of champagne, others walked around to top up the empty glasses; a bartender mixed drinks for those people who did not want champagne; in the library, there was a huge display of jumbo shrimp and other canapes for guests to nibble on; and piano music was provided. What a fantastic event!
Every crew member we met had a genuine smile as well as obvious pride in what they did, and most of them appeared to have fun doing their job. At times, one could notice some of the officers/crew feeling stressed, but this was not surprising given the new itinerary and the attempts to ensure that everything went smoothly.
The dining room staff were fantastic. The food was very good and, the dining room staff always checked to ensure we were enjoying our meal. On the couple of occasions when we did not thoroughly enjoy the dishes ordered, substitutions were quickly provided. As with any restaurant, we learned to order those dishes the kitchen did well and suited our palates.
The bar staff were wonderful and were kept extremely busy. On sea days, SeaDream sometimes had theme drinks/pre-lunch snacks such as Tapas & Sangria at the Pool Bar. The welcome back drinks were truly appreciated after our shore excursions. Sundowners are served at the Top of the Yacht Bart. Pre-dinner drinks are also served in the Main Salon. After dinner, one can choose to go to the Piano Bar, The Top of the Yacht Bar, the Casino, and the Main Salon.
The two shipboard entertainers, Pedro on guitar, and Jimmy on the piano, were both excellent musicians and played a variety of music. The lecturers we had were: Dr. Judith Ewell who was the destination lecturer and would be an asset on any cruise traveling this itinerary; Keith Appleton who was a senior flight engineer on the Concorde; and Pat Bender who is a Professional Behavioral Analyst. The Club and Activities director, Richard, planned additional activities/entertainment such as information on ports of call, DVD concerts under the stars, shore excursions, music/dancers from Brazil, etc.
Richard, and other crew members, took photographs of different aspects of the cruise and uploaded the photographs to a website so that people not on the cruise (and some of whom were on the cruise) could follow the daily activities. These pictures were then burned to a DVD a copy of which was provided to the passengers the night before debarkation.
Our first port was Mindelo, Cape Verde. We took the SeaDream tour as it was a Sunday and we expected most things to be closed. We are glad we did and wish that we had more time as well as a weekday to explore Mindelo. The landscape is extremely arid, and the heat can be oppressive, but at the same time there is real beauty in both the contrast between the land and the sea, and the music that has a beat that is the rhythm of life. We bought dashiki from a street vendor at our first stop and were concerned that this might be a problem as other vendors might become aggressive; however, the opposite happened. Unknown to us, there is some type of communication that occurs so that the vendors know where the bus with tourists will be, and there is a code of ethics for the vendors. At that stop, and each time we stopped, our vendor and the other vendors would give us a thumbs up and say, Thank you. There were, however, two negative parts to the tour. The first occurred at Cat Fish Bay when an aggressive vendor approached a female and said that he was giving a gift of a bracelet (refused), asked for money, and would not move away until a male intervened. The second occurred at the museum when people wanted to shop as correct change was necessary. Most people did not have CVE or Euros and the shop did not accept any other form of currency/credit cards.
Our first Brazilian port, Fernando de Noronha, was deleted. SeaDream should have informed all of the passengers about this change. We were not impressed that the information was given to us by a fellow passenger and not by SeaDream.
The second port was Natal, Brazil. It was absolutely gorgeous, and SeaDream had first class excursions. There was a sand dunes/buggy tour that many people took and everyone whom we spoke to raved about the tour. The second tour was of the city/resort area. Natal is where Brazilians go on holiday. The scenery is spectacular and we wish we could have spent more time in port so that we could have gone on both tours. Note: The tour stopped at a currency exchange and we wish we had exchanged more currency at this location.
In Recife, we took the ship's tour and it was O.K., but we wish we had taken a taxi or prearranged a private tour. Though it was listed as a walking tour, we did not walk much and would have preferred spending more time exploring Olinda. However, vendors were persistent and some people would be uncomfortable going independently.
In Salvador, SeaDream docked in a different area than was expected by the tour operators. This created complications for the tour operator, and was only one of the difficulties experienced on the tour. SeaDream refunded almost all of the money charged for the tour. If we return, we will take a taxi/private tour to the Pelourinho District. We would then spend time at the Mercado Modelo (tourist market).
The Buzios tour was well received, but I cannot comment as we did not take the tour. We wandered around town, walked the beach, stopped at a restaurant/bar overlooking the bay and soaked up the atmosphere. Many of the shops carried the same items - t-shirts, caps, etc. - and the majority of the unique shops were not open in the afternoon. Buzios was the only port where the marina was open. We did not participate in the water sports as, on arrival, there were many small jellyfish surrounding the yacht. However, for most people this did not appear to be an issue. The wave runners cannot be used. Some people were upset they had not been told this ahead of time and it would be beneficial if SeaDream included this information in the Brazilian itineraries. The people we met would not have been disappointed if SeaDream had informed them of this before the marina day.
In Rio de Janeiro, thanks to Alita we had prearranged pick up by Luiz Amaral Tours from the port to take us to our hotel. Cecil, the guide who picked us up, had an excellent command of the English language and provided us with a running commentary as we drove to the hotel. The following day, we went on a private tour to Corcovado, Parque Nacional de Tijuca, Barra de Tijuca beaches, and through Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana - a fabulous day thanks to Marcelo Esteves our tour guide (also booked through Luiz Amaral Tours). From what we experienced, the guides had very different personalities and taking time to correspond with a specific guide before touring could be beneficial. Cecil was formal, knowledgeable, and, from our interaction, appeared to be a history/architecture/cultural specialist and someone we would choose for that type of tour. Marcelo was professional but less formal and, from our interaction, was someone well suited to the type of full day tour we had chosen. Both of them were well known, punctual, and provided good value for the money paid.
The Marina All Suites hotel in Leblon was first rate! We were told that suites (like ours) that end in 01" face the Leblon beach. When you walk in the door, you enter the dining/kitchen area. From the dining area, you enter the living room which has large windows (which open) overlooking the beach. From the kitchen area, you enter the bedroom which has large windows (which open) overlooking the beach. Sliding wooden doors separate the bedroom from the kitchen and the living room from the dining room. The bathroom has a large shower, toilet, bidet, sink, makeup area, blow dryer, and doors connecting to the bedroom and kitchen areas. Room service was efficient and the food from both restaurants was excellent. Once again, we had chosen a hotel that was undergoing renovations of the pool area, and also the fitness center. Here, it was a big disappointment as most people in Rio don't swim in the ocean and we were looking forward to the spectacular views while swimming in the pool. The pool is rooftop and overlooks Leblon beach. Once again, we were amazed by the service of the staff at the hotel as they provided us with a late check-out at no charge. Usually a half-day rate is charged. We would definitely stay there again.
The following information is information that would have been beneficial for us to have before we went on this cruise.
1) If you are staying in Tenerife before the cruise, and don't speak Spanish, a phrase book would be beneficial as many people do not speak English.
2) Do not take Euros in traveller's cheques. Our hotel would not accept them. It was very difficult to find a bank that would cash them. Once we did find a bank, they charged an outrageous rate to complete the transaction.
3) If you meet people on the crossing and they tell you that they are jewelers from Rio, they are not exchanging pleasantries. They are on a working holiday to develop relationships with people on board the ship to promote jewelry from the shop they represent. Representatives from the shops were waiting the yacht's arrival at each port. We were not savvy as we had not traveled to Brazil before. On a larger ship, where we were told they have always represented the company, this might not be an issue. However, we found it offensive. (Note: This was not personal as the individuals on board SeaDream appeared to be very nice people and our interactions were always congenial.) As some passengers appeared to be pleased with inside scoop, SeaDream needs to find a way to keep everyone content. Suggestions - note in stateroom informing passengers that these individuals are on board; having each salesman provide seminars (at their expense) while on board so that passengers have the option of attending; providing pre-cruise information to passengers so that they are aware ahead of time; ....
4) Personal safety is an issue on parts of this itinerary. During the days we were in ports, with the exception of a few persistent vendors/beggars, we did not have any difficulties. The ship provided excellent information on how to reduce risks. At night, the atmosphere changed and we would not recommend going out unless you take a taxi or have arranged to have a driver.
5) Most Brazilians we met did not speak much English and we had only learned a few phrases in Portuguese. Next time, we would ensure that we took language classes and carried a phrase book/digital translator.
6) While in Rio, if you go to the Rio Scenarium in Lapa, you should be there early as there was a line-up by 9:00 p.m.; there was a cover charge to get in; if you order a snack from the menu be prepared for a huge platter and don't order three snacks; there are many different choices of clubs within walking distance of each other and each club has its own atmosphere; there was a taxi stand right outside the club and there were many taxis waiting, and take a card from your hotel to show the driver if you do not speak Portuguese to ensure you are driven to the correct hotel.
7) The Copacabana Palace is truly a spectacular hotel and well worth a visit. However, when walking, we much preferred the overall atmosphere of Ipanema and Leblon. Ipanema was livelier and had more of a tourist crowd than the Leblon beach area. Leblon was more of a residential type of setting and quieter which would detract from some people's choice of locations. We felt relatively safe walking around Leblon during daylight hours, but still ensured that we followed the safety guidelines that had been provided by SeaDream.
Though there were some bumps in the road because of a new itinerary, SeaDream did its best to minimize the impact upon passengers. We would not choose to do the itinerary again, but we would choose to sail on SeaDream. In our opinion, SeaDream deserved the award it received from Conde Nast Traveler and the accolades given by past passengers. Well done, SeaDream!