The new programme includes the line's first ever trip up the Thames to Tower Bridge. The 112-passenger SeaDream I will end its transatlantic repositioning voyage in London on May 8, 2011 for a day during which the yacht will be shown off to hundreds of trade, media and prospective passengers.
This is an important opportunity for SeaDream to introduce British cruisers to its boutique, all-inclusive product; although the U.K. is the company's third-biggest market after the U.S.A. and Canada, Brits only make up eight percent of passengers.
After London, the vessel will sail empty to Bremerhaven in Germany for a three-week dry dock, before emerging on June 1 to operate two Norwegian fjords voyages and four to the Baltic.
But now for the fun part... SeaDream's owner, the supposedly reclusive Norwegian Atle Brynestad, is so thrilled that one of his ships is visiting his home country that he's planning to throw open his own back garden for two parties for guests and crew during the Norwegian sailings. SeaDream's president, Bob Lepisto, told Cruise Critic in an interview: "Our owner is from Oslo and he's always had a dream that one of his yachts will come 'home.' He has a summer home in Lillesand (south of Oslo) and we plan to anchor off his island for the Norwegian equivalent of a beach barbecue."
Lepisto revealed that news of the new cruising area was leaked on a recent voyage – and passengers immediately started asking to reserve cabins, even though dates and prices are not yet published. "It is my personal belief that these voyages will sell out," he said. "We have a number of very loyal guests who have asked for the Baltic."
What about the likelihood of rain? On a yacht that is essentially built for fine-weather cruising, there is a lot of open deck space and fewer indoor activities than, say, a mainstream mega-ship. It's a valid concern: Windstar, which offers a similarly "outdoorsy" product to SeaDream, tried a Baltic season several years ago in 2004 but didn't return.
"We will have raincoats and blankets," joked Lepisto. "But we don't think people are going to be put off. We sail at night. We will be there mid-summer. And to see the fjords at their most spectacular, with snow still on the mountains, you have to go early in the season."
Inclement weather possibilities aside, there are many advantages of sailing the Baltic on a small ship; indeed, it's an area in which rival Seabourn has a long and successful history. SeaDream I will spend two nights and three days in St. Petersburg, docked on the Neva River in the heart of the city, rather than the ugly industrial dock to which many bigger ships are relegated. In Stockholm, the vessel will moor close to the old town, Gamla Stan, and cruise the beautiful archipelago in daylight hours. The Norwegian itineraries include the 111-mile Hardangerfjord and the deep, sheer-sided Sognefjord, all the more spectacular from a small vessel.
And, this may only the beginning for SeaDream in northern Europe. "We'll see how the season goes but we expect to be back in London in 2012 for the Olympics," Lepisto said. "We are getting all kinds of enquiries."
Detailed itineraries will be revealed during the next few days, so keep checking back!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor