By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor(5.5)
"It's yachting, not cruising" has been SeaDream's tagline since the company was launched in 2001, and it's true that the experience onboard continues to be similar to what you'd encounter on a chic, private yacht. There are no schedules, no fixed times, and almost everything is included -- from Champagne and splendid cocktails to gourmet food and water sports. (Spa treatments, premium wines and shore excursions cost extra.) Nobody wears a tie in the evening, and nobody is expected to tip. In a week, the only thing anybody tried to sell me was a shore excursion.
The 4,260-ton, 110-passenger SeaDream II is the identical twin of SeaDream I. Both were built in the mid-1980's and were completely gutted in 2002 before entering service for SeaDream. Both were refitted again in 2006/2007. The decks are teak, and the finishes throughout are classy -- no plastic sun loungers here -- but there are no balcony cabins. They'd look wrong anyway on such sleek little yachts.
What really gave SeaDream II the edge for me was the service, which constantly surprised me -- more so than that of any other luxury brand I've experienced. Whatever upheaval the company's head office has gone through (founding CEO Larry Pimentel left abruptly a year ago, taking some key executives with him), it doesn't show on board. The crew are dedicated, proactive and empowered. They think for you -- and this includes the bar waiters -- and guess, correctly, what you're vaguely contemplating, whether it's a table under the stars on Deck Five or an ice-cold beer as you walk up the gangway after a long, hot day ashore. Some have been with the ships since their early Sea Goddess days, while others come from private yachts; the maitre d' on my cruise had worked on the yacht of the Saudi royal family.
So, what are the downsides? If you've joined the cruise with hopes of taking excursions in every port, be warned that they may be cancelled if the minimum number isn't achieved -- hence, the sales pitch we experienced. With only 110 passengers, maximum capacity, to go 'round (80 on my cruise), this can be an issue.
Being small, the ships do bump around a bit in rough seas, as would any vessel their size. Also, although the unstructured environment is great for passengers who like their independence, there isn't much to do if it rains, other than read, play cards, watch movies or drink more cocktails. This product is really designed for the outdoor type. It'll be interesting to see how its sister, SeaDream I, fares in the cooler Baltic in 2011. But, in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, you can't beat SeaDream II for a relaxing, pampering and somewhat decadent vacation.
SeaDream II Fellow Passengers
Passengers on my cruise were from North America, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Germany, Austria and France. A lot were repeaters, and many who had come from long distances were on extended tours of Europe. Despite the casual dress code, they were considerably more glamorous than passengers I've encountered on other ships -- younger and more stylish. The age range was between 35 and 60, with most in their 40's and 50's.
SeaDream II Dress Code
"Yacht casual" is how the dress code is described. None of the men wore ties, although a few had brought jackets. Women tended to dress very stylishly in the evenings, although still informally.
SeaDream II Gratuity
Tips are included in the fare, and cruise documentation makes it clear that they're not expected.
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