It is an introduction to cruising quite out of the ordinary: a sailing aboard the marvellous SeaDream I, taking in the highlights of the Mediterranean. Words: Alarna Haigh; Photos: Joe Simon
A cool Mediterranean breeze ruffles the sheets … wait a second! Oh, that’s right – we’re sleeping outside, under the stars. And if it wasn’t for my monogrammed SeaDream Yacht Club pyjamas reminding me of my name, I might think I was dreaming. SeaDreaming, to be exact.
It’s on my first cruising experience, a 12-night sailing from Greece to Spain, that I discover why, on this voyage at least, people from more than a dozen nationalities have journeyed across the globe to sail on board SeaDream I.
SeaDream’s catchcry – ‘It’s yachting, not cruising’ – is nautical-speak for the freedom to live as you please in unadulterated luxury, minus the stuffiness you might associate with some high-end cruises. It’s easy to see why Douglas Ward ranked SeaDream I fourth-best in the world in the 2011 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships. This is no ordinary chocolates-on-the-pillow-at-night cruise line. For one, it’s about as inclusive as it gets: all five-star à la carte meals, open bars (with a separately priced top-shelf liquor menu that includes a crystal bottle of Louis XIII cognac for US$98 a pour), all gratuities, onboard entertainment, watersports equipment, tenders and shuttle buses when needed in port – all of which creates a seductively casual environment in which guests can unwind and mingle.
Secondly, there are handmade chocolates and baked cookies on the pillows at night, not to mention the line’s DVD, CD, mints and postcards.
For a mere 112 passengers on any sailing, SeaDream I oozes exclusivity, intimacy and casual luxury. And the affluent crowd it attracts is happy about that. “It’s a very special ship compared to other ships I’ve been on,” says Berit, a well-spoken Norwegian woman cruising with the line for the first time.
SeaDream’s concept is successful in its simplicity: two identical twin-sister yachts, SeaDream I and II – both tiny enough to stroll from bow to stern in less than five minutes – personalised service from 95 obliging crew, each of whom addresses you by name, and an unstructured approach to life on board that evokes the feeling of sailing on your own private yacht.
Want to spend the night under the stars on one of the cushioned Balinese day beds on the top deck? No problem. Just let Maxi at the concierge desk know, and when you wander up to forward Deck 6 later that night in your personalised signature pyjamas, plush bathrobes and slippers, you’ll be met with a romantic bed of Belgian linens and feather pillows.
On board, the 4,300-ton vessel manages to be both spacious and cosy, with a welcoming mix of rich-coloured carpets and beige-and-wood furnishings lending the main salon, lobby and hallways a country-club ambience. The library is off the Piano Bar on Deck 4 and its polished floorboards, a lifetime’s worth of reading material, board games, chess sets, internet access, comfy armchairs and fresh flowers make it the perfect place to seek some solitude on sea days. Out on the teak Pool Deck, soft music plays to the sound of the breaking waves and passengers can relax in deck chairs, the saltwater pool or the jacuzzi, or unwind with a drink.
Our Yacht Club Stateroom on Deck 4 has the feeling of an intimate retreat. A large picture window lights up the creature comforts – a wall-to-wall mirror, writing desk with personalised stationery, lounge and armchair, blond wood drawers and wardrobe, and a mini-bar that our stewardess refills daily. The marble-tiled bathroom is stocked with Bulgari bath products and there’s a good-sized multi-jet shower.
Dining is always an extravagant affair, from breakfast through to dinner, and the spectacle of the meals is a major part of the fun. It’s also where all-inclusive plays a big part: the food is exquisite and cooked à la minute. If you can’t choose between the Xante chocolate soufflé and the raspberry panna cotta, served with homemade ice creams, try both!
Breakfast and lunch are served in the outdoor Topside Restaurant, where tables are set with china, glass and silver, and waiters in crisp white shirts and navy shorts are always at the ready with a menu. As if that’s not enough, the buffet overflows with freshly baked pastries, exotic fruits, cold meats and cheeses as well as salads, seafood or an indulgent barbecue buffet, depending on the time of day.
Dinner is open seating and is usually served in the Dining Salon, which is what I imagine first-class dining rooms looked like in the 1930s. Tables are set with silver, glass and crystalware, tea lights and single-stem orchids. Mains are served with silver covers and the menu is so delectable I have to restrain myself to order only four courses, paired with sommelier-selected reds and whites from around the globe.
On calm nights, dinner is served outside on deck. On a magical evening in Itea, we dine on deck with the twinkling lights and ancient ruins of Delphi as a backdrop.
I begin to wonder if there’s anything this crew won’t do to satisfy a passenger request. Apparently, if one asks for a big breakfast at dinnertime, it will be arranged without the blink of an eye. One lady on board requests chilli-infused vodka, and a bottle of Absolut is immediately spiced up so she can drink her own signature cocktail each night.
We board SeaDream I in Piraeus, destined for the blue-and-white maze of Mykonos; Fiskardo on the isle of Cephalonia, where Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed, and various other Greek islands; the fortress city of Valletta in Malta; a taste of Africa in La Goulette, Tunisia; and Palma de Mallorca in Spain.
In Fiskardo and La Goulette, we take the organised ‘Yachting Land Adventures’ because, at a reasonable US$99 and US$98 respectively, they offer more experiences than we could have achieved on our own with only one day in port. Maps for each port are available from the concierge and most days, a local guide is available for consultation in the lobby to give tips to independent explorers.
Undoubtedly, the most spectacular experience is our early-morning transit of the manmade Corinth Canal, which cuts Greece in half and links the Saronic Gulf to the Corinthian Gulf. As we transit the narrow passage with less than a metre and a half of water to spare on either side, all passengers are up on the forward deck from dawn, sipping steaming mugs of hot chocolate, drinking fresh juice and nibbling on croissants served by roaming waiters.
SeaDream I is as much about the ship as the destinations, and after spending most of two days ashore, we really settle into shipboard life. Sea days are an opportunity to enjoy the ship’s finer features, and while it is unfortunate we miss calling in at Sicily, Ibiza and Motril in Spain due to rough seas, this means more time on board.
On different days, SeaDream’s crew stages a fashion show around the Pool Deck to showcase the onboard boutique; pastry chef Garfield hosts a hilarious dessert-making competition in the Main Salon; and executive chef Tomasz holds an afternoon tea party with fresh scones … And we fall asleep to a Thai-certified Swedish massage, gamble chips on the Casino’s blackjack table, sip cocktails in the Piano Bar and snuggle up around the Pool Deck with blankets and popcorn to watch the nightly movie on the yacht’s big screen.
According to Club Director Natalie Cavanaugh, there are guests of 14 nationalities and a record-breaking 17 Australians on this sailing. Currently, we make up 10 per cent of the company’s business, even though SeaDream sails year-round in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and not one Aussie I speak to doubts it’s worth the travelling time.
Add a SeaDream sailing to your bucket list. Walking the 18 steps from the dock to this floating paradise is a must-do before you die, though it’s spoiled me forever. On what other holiday am I likely to be asked, while I’m sipping a mojito and watching the Mediterranean slip by, “Can I polish your sunglasses, Ma’am?”
Alarna Haigh was a guest of SeaDream Yacht Club.
• Having the most carefree holiday ever.
• Being welcomed back on board with a cool scented towel and a glass of champagne, juice or soft drink.
• Missing ports.
• Not being able to get a poolside deck chair on sunny days because they’re reserved with books and bags.
Cruise line: SeaDream Yacht Club
Vessel: SeaDream I
Star rating: 5
Max. passenger capacity: 112
Total crew: 95
Passenger decks: 5
GRT: 4,300 tons
Entered service: April 1984/May 2002
Features: All 54 cabins have ocean views, a flat-screen television, DVD and CD player, glassware, full length mirrors, a dataport (laptops are available upon request), Bulgari bath products, 100% Turkish cotton bathrobes, a fully stocked mini bar, telephones, safe, airconditioning, and 24-hour room service; 2 restaurants (1 outdoor), 4 bars (2 outdoors), complimentary beverages, cushioned double/single day beds, SeaDream Spa, gym, pool, jacuzzi, a retractable watersports marina, casino, library, SeaDream boutique and a golf simulator.