(12:55 p.m. EDT) -- SeaDream Yacht Club has done it again: The small cruise line made industry headlines when it became the first luxury outfit to return to sailing in June, making a quick pivot with its two ships to Norway for a successful summer season.
And now SeaDream is the only cruise line making a transatlantic sailing with passengers onboard. SeaDream I's 21-day trip left from Oslo with its first guests, before picking up more in Rotterdam, Portsmouth in the U.K. and Funchal in Madeira. The ship is heading for Barbados, where it will run weeklong Caribbean cruises through April.
(As a note, Cruise Critic will be sailing on SeaDream in Barbados on November 14. Tell us what you'd like to see!)
We spoke to two passengers currently onboard SeaDream I, the British vloggers Ben and David. The duo have a popular YouTube channel, Cruise With Ben & David, where they have already posted videos from the sailing. (You can also follow them on Instagram at @cruisewith).
Here's what they had to say about the sailing.
Cruise Critic: What was the process like embarking the ship? How did the passengers who were already onboard react to the new group? How do you feel about the safety of the multiple embarkation ports?
Ben & David: The process of embarking the ship was a little different to the norm. We had to arrange a COVID PCR test to be taken no longer than 72 hours before departure. We received our negative results just over 24 hours after taking our test. As you can imagine this was a huge relief!
Each passenger was required to produce a printed certificate of their negative result. We also filled out a passenger locator form as well as printing our own tickets and completing a health declaration.
When we arrived at the port, we were greeted by both port and SeaDream staff. Our baggage was cleaned using an electrostatic cleaning gun, we were directed to a seat and asked to wait for the ship's doctor to call us through.
A few minutes later we were called, we had our temperature taken as well as blood oxygen levels. We then had our second COVID test taken by the ship's doctor. It was all a touch-free boarding process because we had already completed all the required paperwork before arriving at the port. After waiting about 15 minutes, the doctor gave us the thumbs up to board -- our tests were once again negative.
We had to wear masks during the boarding process. Everything was so efficient and smooth that you would have thought they had been doing this for years. We were really impressed by both the port of Portsmouth and SeaDream.
Once through security we saw the ship the first time - it was a welcome sight after an almost 8-month break. After one last spray of our shoes and soles, we were onboard, being warmly greeted with champagne and cold towels!
We felt very confident about the safety of the ship and the multiple embarkation ports, as the same procedures were completed in Oslo and Rotterdam. The ship is spotless and there are countless procedures in place to keep it that way. The passengers who were already onboard welcomed us like it was a normal cruise. Most passengers (19 of the 34) boarded in Portsmouth.
CC: I understand that SeaDream doesn't require masks onboard. Are some people wearing them anyway? At what point did you feel comfortable taking off your mask around other people?
B&D: As soon as we were onboard, we were able to remove our masks. We felt very comfortable - each passenger had already tested negative twice. It really does feel like one of the safest places on earth!
We haven't seen any passengers wear a mask at any point, apart from going ashore for a third and final test in the port of Madeira (required by Barbadian authorities) Once again all passengers tested negative. So that's three separate tests over the space of 7 days - we feel very safe onboard!
Social distancing is still in place onboard with floor markings, rearranged furniture and seats marked off. There are hand sanitiser stations all around the ship with messages to keep washing hands and maintain distance.
CC: What is the passenger mix onboard, in terms of nationality? Do you know what the final number of passengers is going to be, by the time everyone boards?
B&D: The passenger mix is diverse. We have passengers from the USA, UK, Norway, Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands. For the final crossing from Madeira, we believe there are around 30 passengers onboard - this allows for plenty of physical distancing. There's around 60 crew onboard so it feels like a private yacht!
CC: Is it hard to meet new people with social distancing requirements? How do you hang out at the bar together, for example? Can you eat dinner with other people or are you limited to the two of you?
B&D: It really isn't hard, there are spaces between seats and it's still easy to talk and mingle. We were allowed to dine with other people after our third negative test in Madeira, but there is still physical distance between each seat at dinner.
Passengers are still taking distancing seriously, there is no handshaking or physical contact. Everyone on board is very appreciative to be able to cruise again, there's a great atmosphere onboard!
CC: Are people spending time at the inside restaurant and bar, or are most people using the outdoor restaurant and Top of the Yacht bar? Do these venues seem crowded?
B&D: Because of the amount of people onboard, the venues are very quiet with plenty of room to mingle and distance. Now that the weather is warmer, all meals are taking place outside, not only is it fantastic to dine al fresco but we should imagine it's safer too! There is so much space both inside and out that no area is crowded.
CC: Are the Balinese beds open for people to use? How about other amenities, such as the gym and spa?
B&D: Everything is open --apart from the boarding procedures and distancing, it feels like a normal cruise. There are extra cleaning protocols such as the regular cleaning of beds and gym equipment after each use.
The spa is open too, this is the only time we have seen crew wear masks as physical distancing is impossible - after each treatment the room is throughly sanitised. The casino is open too, all cards and equipment is thoroughly sanitised after each use.
CC: I know that SeaDream doesn't really focus on entertainment, per se. What are they doing in the evenings to keep people entertained?
B&D: There's lots to do onboard, our Cruise Director Anna is really fantastic! She organises a daily program of trivia, movies, live music, cocktail hours and basically whatever the passengers want to do. We certainly have not been bored.
CC: In terms of other COVID-19 protocols, what else have you noticed that's different about the cruising experience?
B&D: We have noticed a lot of extra cleaning. Our cabin is immaculate and is thoroughly cleaned everyday including the use of a large UV light for 15 minutes each day. As we mentioned earlier, there is signage and sanitising stations all around the ship. Each passenger is also required to have their temperature taken daily at the guest relations desk. The breakfast and lunch buffet stations are no longer self serve, you point out to the crew what you would like and they plate the food for you.
The crew onboard are also regularly tested and when joining the ship are required to take a COVID test, then self isolate in a guest cabin for 10 days before being tested again and starting duty.
CC: You have a lot of sea days! What are you doing to keep busy during the crossing?
B&D: It feels like a lot of time but it goes by so quickly! We are already almost half way through our voyage - we can't believe it! We are enjoying the fantastic food onboard, this seems to take up most of the day! There is no way you would ever go hungry on a SeaDream Yacht!
We are enjoying the beautiful weather, reading, sunbathing, catching up on things, spending time with our fellow passengers and amazing crew. The crew are such as asset to SeaDream - it really has been a pleasure to get to know them, the service onboard is nothing short of spectacular - we can really see why people choose to cruise with SeaDream over and over again.
Watching each sunset and sunrise has been such a treat, it's the little things we have missed - we are just so happy to be here! We want it to last as long as possible - if we could have more sea days we would happily take them!
CC: How does it feel to be cruising again?
B&D: It feels incredible to be cruising again, we have missed it so much so it is so fantastic to be back. We never thought we would be cruising in 2020, so we feel very appreciative to be back on the ocean again. It feels like we have this in common with all the crew and passengers onboard, each one is so thankful to be here - it feels like we are family in our own bubble.
Just to be away and cut off from all the news surrounding COVID, elections, Brexit and other things has been a most welcome break.