It's been two weeks since we disembarked SeaDeam Yacht Club's SeaDream II in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and my mind keeps drifting to an old Celebrity Cruises commercial. It showed an executive in his office, fussing with his Venetian blinds and daydreaming about his most recent voyage. He's feeling out of sorts without the constant pampering of the crew and he laments of his current situation at work: "I consider this a temporary exile."
We can all commiserate with that sentiment after stepping off a luxury cruise ship and the pain certainly cuts so much deeper when you're saying goodbye to a vessel in the ilk of SeaDream II.
In this review, I'll step you through the SeaDream experience and will rate each element of the cruise. However, before getting into specifics I think it's important for you to know a bit about me, what I like about cruising, and my other vacation preferences. Otherwise, my statements will be without a baseline from which to judge them.
My husband and I are in our early forties and we cruise three to four times a year. We generally travel with luxury lines because we prefer smaller ships, larger staterooms with balconies, all-inclusive cruise fares, excellent food and wine, more foreign passengers in the mix, fewer families with young children, and unusual shore excursions and onboard experiences. We look for excellent but sincere service that isn't overwrought and we appreciate a relaxed approach to luxury.
I love the outdoors and animal life but I'm a bit of a princess. My idea of "roughing it" is staying at a hotel that doesn't offer 24-hour room service with chocolate cake on its menu. Ritz-Carlton is our preferred hotel chain. We tend to find something to love about most cruise lines, but we're particular fond of American Safari Cruises, Yachts of Seabourn, SeaDream, and Windstar.
Now, on to my review of SeaDream II...
We stayed at the Hilton San Juan on HHonors points for one night before the cruise. It's a nice, large convention-style hotel but the service was not stellar. The best place to stay before a SeaDream cruise is the Sheraton Old San Juan since that hotel is so close to the embarkation pier. (It's literally right across the street from the pier.) We would have stayed there but it was booked solid. Make hotel your reservations early!
Our Eastern Caribbean Itinerary:
San Juan, Puerto Rico Culebrita, Puerto Rico Esperanza, Vieques, Puerto Rico Cruz Bay, St. John, United States Virgin Islands Marigot, St. Martin, French West Indies Saba, Netherlands, Antilles Gustavia, St. Barthelemy, French West Indies Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands (we ended up calling on Peter Island instead due to sea conditions) Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
Embarkation We boarded SeaDream II and were welcomed by the crew with champagne and cold towels. Cabins weren't yet ready so we were invited to wait in the Main Salon, where the drinks flowed and sandwiches were served. It took about 45 minutes before we got our photos taken for our ID cards. When we arrived in our stateroom, our luggage had already been delivered.
The Yacht SeaDream II began life as Sea Goddess II in 1985. She sailed under Sea Goddess Cruises until 1998 when she was transferred to the Seabourn fleet. In 2001, Norwegian Atle Brynstead founded SeaDream Yacht Club and he purchased both Sea Goddess II and sister ship Sea Goddess I in order to rebrand them under the SeaDream moniker.
Due to her age, SeaDream II doesn't have the sleek lines of some of the newest megayachts. Still, you wouldn't necessarily know the ship is 25 years old either. She's been updated consistently over the years and upkeep—both inside and out—is impeccable.
The common areas are elegantly decorated in understated tones of beige, blue, white, gold, and natural woods. You'll spend most of your time exploring these aspects of the yacht:
Sunbathing on Balinese Dream Beds & Sun Beds Balinese beds are unique to SeaDream and we fell in love with them. The Balinese Dream Beds—eight queen-size and two twins—are set on risers in the aft section of the yacht. You'll have unobstructed views from your bed. Umbrellas are available for those of us who require additional shade. The Sun Beds are located far forward and are surrounded by a half moon of chaise lounges.
We preferred the Balinese Beds and, with two side tables, they were the perfect place to enjoy drinks and snacks in the afternoon.
If you've sailed with SeaDream, you already know that you can even sleep under the stars on the Balinese Dream Beds and Sun Beds. Upon embarkation, seek out the Concierge and make a reservation. The forward Sun Bed (location #19 on the deck plan) offers the most privacy. We did this on the second night of our cruise and it was definitely memorable! SeaDream stewardesses make up the beds with duvets and throw pillows and the area is roped off to ensure your privacy. This was a highlight of the trip and I urge you to do this the next time you cruise with SeaDream. We live in the New York City area and we rarely get to see the stars shine brightly. Out in the Caribbean, the stars were brilliant and we stargazed for at least two hours before drifting off to sleep.
Top of the Yacht Bar Top of the Yacht Bar, at midship, separates the Balinese Dream Beds and Sun Beds on the top deck. This is the place where early risers gather for coffee, tea, and pastries and it's a terrific place to cool off during the afternoon. After-dinner drinks are served here as well. Top of the Yacht is special because it gives you an excellent vantage point of your port of call and the bartenders are spectacular. During our voyage, we spent time here talking with chief bartender Zoltan, as well as Chad, Mario, and Brian.
Golf Simulator Also on Deck 6, the Golf Simulator is in a room forward of the Top of the Yacht Bar (near the Sun Beds). It was out of service during our voyage so I unfortunately can't comment on it.
Staterooms Since SeaDream II is a small ship, you won't have too many choices when it comes to your cabin. Staterooms are on Decks 2, 3, and 4.
If you are worried about seasickness, book a midship cabin on Deck 2. However, realize that if the seas are rough, you will hear waves crashing on the side of the yacht and may see spray through your portholes.
We don't have problems with motion—we sort of like it when it's rocking and rolling!—so we enjoyed our Yacht Club Stateroom on Deck 4, room 404. Yes, you can hear the Piano Bar from the room at night but if you want to go to sleep, simply pull the heavy curtain between the bed and the sitting area. That blocks out all noise from the hallway.
Yacht Club Staterooms, there are 54 of them, are 195 square feet. The closet and bathroom flank the entryway. While the marble bathroom is beautiful, it is a bit small. There's no tub but the shower has a high-end multi-jet showerhead. The bathroom is stocked with Bvlgari bath supplies. The sitting room has a sofa and coffee table and faces the entertainment center with a flat-screen TV and DVD/CD player. Suitcases can be stashed under the bed.
If Yacht Club Staterooms are too small for you, book a Commodore Suite (390 square feet). There are eight of these and they are actually two Yacht Club cabins combined. You may choose to have two beds or one bed plus a dining table and four chairs. The obvious perk is having two full bathrooms and closets. That definitely solves the space problem.
Finally, there are two specialty suites on SeaDream II: the Admiral Suite (suite 400) and the Owner's Suite (suite 315). The Admiral Suite is 375 square feet and includes three panoramic windows, separate bedroom and living area, a dining area, and one and a half baths. (The full bath is complete with a tub). The Owner's Suite, at 447 square feet, is the largest cabin onboard and features a bathroom with soaking tub, a dining area that seats four, a living area, and separate bedroom with queen bedding.
There's a mini fridge in all staterooms and your stewardess will keep it stocked with your favorite beverages (beer, soda, water, etc.). You'll also find 100% Turkish cotton waffle-weave bathrobes and comfortable slippers for your use while onboard. There's a makeup mirror in the room, although the light in ours was broken.
Finally, there's a dataport (Ethernet jack) so you can access the Internet via your own laptop or one you borrow from Concierge. While wifi is not available on board, you can hook up via the dataport and then broadcast your signal so your iPhone, for example, can get a wireless connection to the Internet. Internet access costs $35 per 24-hour period.
Dining I'll say right now that I think the food aboard SeaDream II is the best I've had on any cruise ship anywhere in the world. Chef de Cuisine Josselin Jeanblanc and his team of 15 work miracles in the kitchen and the provisions used are the freshest I've seen at sea. (My other favorite cruise ship dining experiences include Seabourn Odyssey and Celebrity Equinox.)
If you'd like to see some photos of the food served aboard SeaDream II, visit http://luxurycruisebible.blogspot.com/2010/01/fine-dining-aboard-seadream-ii.html
View a week's worth of SeaDream II dinner menus here: http://www.luxurycruisebible.com/articles/menu-seadream-ii-caribbean-2010
Service The yacht's crew seems more like a family than a group of coworkers. Stewardesses and Marina staff mostly hail from the Philippines while the waiters are from Croatia and other Eastern European countries. There is one American staff member and the captain and several engineers were born in Norway.
Every single SeaDream employee seemed genuinely happy in their occupation and made guests immediately feel at home. We were always called by name and every request was handled with the acumen you'd expect from a luxury property. (Laundry was done within hours, for example.)
The crew seems to magically appear whenever you need something but remains out of sight when you just want to relax on deck. It's a difficult balancing act and SeaDream II's crew pulls it off perfectly every time.
Entertainment Remember that SeaDream II is a very intimate ship and that means entertainment options don't resemble what you'll find onboard today's hulking cruise ships... and that's more than okay by me!
Retractable Aft Marina & Pool Deck One of SeaDream's most interesting features is its retractable aft Marina, which is deployed several times per cruise (when sea conditions are favorable). From the Marina platform you can take a swim or go snorkeling, or you can borrow a personal watercraft—kayaks, jet skis, Sunfish—and take it for a spin. The Zodiac will also be available for water skiing, tubing, and thrilling banana boat rides.
The Marina is directly below the Pool Deck so if you don't join your traveling companions on the jet skis, you can watch them from Deck 3 as you sip a margarita and take a dip in the pool or a soak in the whirlpool.
Library, Piano Bar, and Casino After dinner you'll probably spend plenty of time in this trio of rooms on Deck 4: the library, piano bar, and casino. If you didn't bring your laptop (and didn't borrow one from the Concierge), you can check your e-mail at one of two computers in the library (located aft). You can also borrow books and magazines; there's actually an excellent selection of both novels and nonfiction. The library is a rich-looking room with cherry wood tones and comfortable furniture.
Directly outside the library is the Piano Bar. In the evenings, Chief Bartender Zoltan opens the bar while musician George presides over a sing-along. There are a few bar stools but many guests simply gather around the piano to join in the fun.
Across from the Piano Bar is the Casino. Well, in truth it's just one gaming table manned by Casino Manager Mariya. Despite the tiny room, passengers turned up each night to try their hand at Blackjack.
Spa & Fitness SeaDream Spa on Deck 4 is an oasis at sea and is run by a cadre of wonderful Thai women. They offer a variety of spa treatments, including body therapy (a 30-minute papaya body mask for $70), massage therapy (a 50-minute traditional Thai massage for $115), and facial therapy (a 50-minute aromaplasty session for $95). You can also make an appointment for salon services like a manicure and pedicure (standard or French), or a shampoo and blow dry ($35-$45).
The spa staff also assists at the Fitness Center, which is open from 8am-8pm. You'll find treadmills, elliptical machines, recumbent bikes and free weights. Free group exercise classes in yoga and tai chi are scheduled throughout the cruise.
Shore Excursions I was pleasantly surprised to find that SeaDream offers a solid list of shore excursions at most ports. Be warned, however, that some Yachting Land Adventures, as they are called by the line, are cancelled if a minimum number of participants isn't reached. During our voyage, some guests were shut out of a zip-line adventure for this reason.
One of the excursions we joined in Esperanza on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico was perhaps the coolest we've ever participated in: the Bioluminescent Bay Encounter.
Known locally as "Bio Bay," this spot combines the perfect conditions to create a community of dino-flagellates. These are microscopic organisms—part plant and part animal—that live here off the nutrients in the bay. What makes them unique is how they react to motion: they glow neon blue. So, while you can't see the organisms with the naked eye, you can see the light they produce when they come in contact with you, a fish, a boat, etc. The effect is other-worldly!
You'll be wowed the moment you hit the water! Just move your arms and legs and a strange blue light will "glow" from your body! Lift your arms out of the water and you'll see individual "stars" or "diamonds" emit sparks of light.
It is so hard to explain just how unusual and beautiful this experience is. Photographing the effect is very difficult since you're in complete blackness and if you use a flash, you'll flatten the "glow." This is something you'll have to do yourself and then you'll also be telling people, "You must visit Vieques and Bio Bay!" This tour was definitely worth much more than the $58 per person we paid.
Enrichment Unlike some cruise ships, there are no daytime lectures or guest speakers. Instead, the yacht's Club and Activities Director conveys port information each evening in the Main Salon during cocktail hour.
Dress Code We love SeaDream because the dress code is so easy! There are no formal nights but if you want to dress up in the evening, go for it. Many couples dressed for dinner in the Dining Salon while others simply wore sundresses and trousers with button-down shirts. The relaxed dress code certainly made packing easier!
Fellow Passengers On our voyage, we met Europeans, Canadians, and fellow Americans. While SeaDream II can accommodate up to 112 guests, there were 85 people on our sailing (each Commodore Suite was booked, thus depleting the number of available Yacht Club staterooms and lowering the total capacity of the ship during this particular sailing).
Family & Children I would not recommend SeaDream for families with young children. Even teenagers may be bored during the evenings (though they'd love the Marina during the day).
Cruise Fare & Gratuity SeaDream Yacht Club offers an all-inclusive experience and the cruise fare includes alcoholic beverages and gratuities. Of course, some guests still prefer to tip or, as we did, donate to the crew welfare fund.
If you dissect SeaDream's sailing schedule, you'll find some excellent values. Certain Caribbean sailings and transatlantic repositioning voyages have been consistently priced in a way that makes them a bargain among luxury cruise line offerings.
However, even the highest rack rate fares are reasonable considering the intimate size of the yacht, the high level of service, and excellent food and wine onboard.
We will definitely sail with SeaDream Yacht Club again in the very near future.
—Originally published at http://www.luxurycruisebible.com ©2010 Andrea M. Rotondo