Marigot, Saint Martin
I always associate champagne with the SeaDream Yacht Club. Every cruise I have done with this line has featured champagne as a favourite libation during its cruises, and this one kept up the same trend. It’s a champagne cruise, for sure, but right now, it is one of the best bargains around. That may not be the case after this Spring, when the ship will undergo a massive refit, changing the more staid decor to a contemporary and sharp-edged design. For now, it’s one of the best deals in the Caribbean.
#1: Keep your passport handy during the cab ride to the ship, not tucked in your baggage in the back of the car. You will need to present it to gain entry to the port area.
#2 – Pack light and keep it informal. This is a ship where jewels and fancy dress are out of place. Guests dress well, but casually.
#3 – Bring your workout duds. There are some very good classes each day, and several of the shore excursions can involve bike rides and hiking if you choose.
#4- Maybe you sleep in the buff, but if you are a pyjama-wearer, don’t pack any. You are given a lovely pair, with your name on them, on the first night. Even if you don’t usually wear pjs, you will need them if you decide to sleep on deck in the Balinese beds.
Ports Visited: Seven Days Round Trip Cruise from St. Martin
Marigot, St Martin
South Friars Bay, Saint Kitts & Nevis
Falmouth Bay Antigua & Barbuda
Terre De Haut, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
Chrishi Beach Club, Nevis
Saba, Dutch Caribbean
Gustavia,, St Barts
Gustavia, St Barts
Marigot, St Martin
Arrival in Saint Marten
Clearing customs in Princess Juliana Airport was quick and easy. The terminal is small so even though it was crowded, the lines moved fast and we were outside the terminal in about ten minutes.
Once we found the taxi dispatcher, we booked a taxi to take us to the ship docked in Galisbay. The fee was a bit steep for a five-mile drive – $25 US – but that seemed to be the standard fare. Our driver was a pleasant woman who pointed out some of the points of interest in Marigot during the short (ten to fifteen minutes) drive.
Boarding the Ship
Be prepared for a not very attractive port entrance. It is a container port. But, once you pass through the last set of barrier gates, the SeaDream II awaits. And she is still beautiful. Today, the captain greeted us at the top of the gangway, and the welcoming glass of chilled champagne appeared. We were shown to our cabin, where our bags had already been delivered, and were invited to enjoy sandwiches, wine and tea in the main lounge before dinner.
At the evening cocktail party – yes, more champagne – the Cruise Director Taylor gave a presentation covering several aspects of the ship and the shore excursions, and introduced key members of the staff. There were light hors d’oeuvres served.
Basic Information about the SeaDream II
Launched in 1985, the sister ships, SeaDream I and II are designed to deliver a small yacht sailing experience. The SeaDream II, with its wooden decks, pale wood trim and blue and white decor still looks fresh and pretty and elegant – the result, I believe, of good bones in the beginning and ongoing upkeep.
She’s old school but in the best possible way.
The staff are exemplary, and are always ready to wait on you. When I sailed, there were 78 passengers and 98 staff. This is essentially an adult ship though a mature teen might fit in. While there were two or three single cruisers, who seemed to be welcomed and included, this is a ship for couples or groups. There was a group of about ten Norwegians traveling together, some couple, some singles, who biked and dined as a group, but also interacted with other passengers. Their energy was inspiring – they jumped on bikes and rode around every island we stopped at.
The twin mega-yachts SeaDream I & II are boutique ships that provide an intimate travelling experience. There are 95 crew members with a total of 112 possible guests, and that ratio makes the boat feel like your own private luxury yacht. The SeaDream’s 56-stateroom yachts are casually elegant, the style is informal, the service personal. Your fare includes an open bar and gratuities, all staterooms have ocean views and the quality of the on-board cuisine is emphasized.
All of the suites and staterooms are ocean view. There are 54 Yacht Club Staterooms measuring 195 square feet. 16 of the Yacht Club Staterooms can be converted to 8 Commodore Suites. The Owner’s Suite, 447 square feet, features a private master bedroom and bathroom suite with a soaking tub and a living and dining room area with a guest bath. The Admiral’s Suite is 375 square feet of living space, with ocean views from three picture windows, living and dining area and a guest bathroom.
Dining on Board
Food is well above the standard found on other ships. Dinner the first evening was as good as I remembered, beginning with an asparagus bavaroise and organic smoked salmon tartar with caviar cream, followed by a curried red lentil soup, a raspberry sorbet, to cleanse the palette, fillet mignon and a perfect coconut soufflé with Malibu rum sauce. The wines included in the meal were a crisp Sauve and a quite drinkable Valpolicella.
(The couple at the next table ordered Dom Perignon Champagne, which was extra.)
Great start to the cruise. We nodded off lulled by the gentle roll of the ship as we set sail for St. Kitts.
There are two main places to dine on the ship, the formal dining room on deck two and the top deck open air restaurant. Light lunches can be ordered from poolside and afternoon tea and evening hors d’ouevres are served in the main lounge. Because the number of passengers is small, seating at all meals is open.
SeaDream also boasts that it serves the only “raw food” or “living food” menu at sea. Guests have the option of ordering dishes prepared using raw, organic and vegan ingredients, none of which are heated above 118 degrees F.
Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options are available. There is a ‘healthy corner’ at each buffet, with sprouts, an array of lettuce, vegetables, seeds and nuts, with a variety of dressings. There’s no excuse for not eating well on this ship.
Coffee is served from 7 am and full breakfast from 8-10 on the top deck and frankly, this was my favourite meal of the day. There is an excellent buffet where guests can serve themselves – fresh tropical fruit, cereals, nuts, smoked salmon, croissants, muffins, Danishes, – a great selection.
Guests can also order a la carte, and the caviar eggs and smoked salmon eggs Benedict are favourites. There is espresso and lattes and fresh fruit juices. And the view of the ocean with that day’s port in sight is a nice side dish!
Lunch is surprisingly sophisticated and varied, with fresh soups daily, curries, stews, grilled fish and pasta dishes, as well as a buffet with salads, cold meats and desserts. And the views are still there!
From 7:30, dinner is served in the formal dining room and, if the weather is fine, often on the top deck as well. I’d dine on deck under the stars every night – it’s magical. On one evening, we were guests of the captain, and sat in a quiet nook near the bow of the ship, – the ocean, the stars, the good conversation, the excellent food and expert wine pairings – it was a memorable meal.
The wine steward, Frank, was a companionable and friendly guy, and knew his wines (as well as good books! – he gave me several suggestions of books that I am looking forward to reading – Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Magarita and The Heart of a Dog, for example!) I am not much of a wine drinker, but my husband knows his vintages well, and he was impressed with the quality of the wines served each night. Both the reds and whites were consistently good, some exceptionally so. Wines and beer are included, but guests can order special vintages and rare champagnes for an extra fee, but the included wines were really good, and Frank paired them perfectly with each meal.
Cabin Decor and Amenities
The cabin is light and bright, with pale blonde wood trim and white and blue accents, and the bed is comfy. It was configured as a queen size bed, but can be converted into two twins. Linens were good quality Belgian, crisp and white, and the pillows were just right. In case you didn’t like the firmness of your pillow, your cabin stewardess will give you a choice of pillows. There was a bottle of chilled champagne as an extra greeting in the room too. Each room has a stocked refrigerator with beer, soft drinks and water. There is a flat screen tv, telephone and safe, bath robes and slippers.
Wifi packages are available on the ship for a fee, $99 US for a week. It works quite well, though sometimes it can be iffy when the ship is between islands, and it doesn’t support streaming or overly large downloads
#Tip: Download your favourite programs from Netflix ahead of the cruise if you want to watch them in your room. There are some good programs and movies on the ship’s channels, but you may want your own choice.
Bathrooms are marbled and on the snug side. Amenities are by Bulgari. There isn’t a lot of room for toiletries and the sink is small, but it all works.
There is ample cupboard and drawer space, as long as you haven’t brought everything you own. Like most travellers these days I travel lighter so I don’t need too much storage. I used to travel with gowns and several pairs of high heels, but not any more. I came on this cruise with carry on luggage and had plenty of clothes for the week. I loved the monogramed SeaDream Pyjamas that landed on my bed on the first evening, nice and roomy, and made of a light airy cotton. They have become my favourites.
There is a small casino, with one croupier. I’m not a gambler, but the spot proved to be popular with some guests late in the evening. And it is close to the piano bar that stays open late.
Exercise Classes and Gym
Each morning there are yoga classes and tai chi classes. If it isn’t too hot, classes are held up on deck or otherwise in the library area. The yoga was not too demanding though the stretches were deceptively challenging for anyone who wasn’t flexible.
It’s old fashioned but somehow very attractive and enticing. The shelves of books, comfortable chairs, games, and public computers feel like a library in an English manor house.
The small Thai-certified spa offers specially priced treatments daily and massages on deck or in your cabin can be arranged. There is a range of treatments offered, including Sisley Paris treatments, Radiant facials, detoxifying treatments, aroma massage and traditional Thai massage for men, women and couples. There are also hair, nail and beauty services. I have to confess that I didn’t use any of the spa facilities – I was always too busy and a week goes by quickly! But the spa was busy and seemed well utilized by guests.
There are kayaks available, and the ship has a retractable water sports platform as well as a floating trampoline that serves as a place to get a suntan, dive, chat – whatever. There are snorkels and life vests, stand-up paddle boards, lots of water toys and one of the crew is always circling in a boat, keeping an eye on swimmers.
The pool on board is a pleasant and popular gathering place, and there is a small whirlpool tub.
The ship has one small area of reception which features some articles for sale, like t-shirts, jewelry, books and caps.
There are no big shows or Broadway spectaculars on board the SeaDream II. There isn’t the space, and in fact, in step with the SeaDream ethos, the style is small and intimate.
Each evening, between the cocktail hour and dinner, Activities Director Taylor would do an entertaining recap of the day and present information and details about the next day’s port.
On some evenings there were movies shown in the main lounge, (sometimes also on the top deck) complete with popcorn, and guests were encouraged to attend in their pjs and robes.
Other evenings, there was DJ Anna who played music and there was dancing under the stars on the upper deck that often lasted till the wee hours.
And if you want to experience the magic of a Caribbean night sky, book a night in one of the Balinese beds up top where you can sleep under the stars.
At each port there was a variety of shore excursions to choose from, some for the active passengers, and some less challenging. There was scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, biking, paddle boarding, and kayaking experiences, as well as some bus tours. Because the ship is small and the ports were generally on smaller islands, it was easy to jump into the tender and do your own independent exploration. I did a very satisfying hike on Saba just on my own, and toured the Nelson Dockyards and St. Barth’s shops independently. There are bikes on board that can be used by guests.
There are also complimentary crew-lead tours of some of the ports. Taylor took us on a good hike across the island on Guadeloupe to a small beach where we could swim and snorkel. On St. Barth’s he took us through the town to another lovely beach where we could swim, and pointed out interesting shops and restaurants. I found it a pleasant and informal way to explore the ports.
There are excellent discounts for repeat cruisers, particularly if they rebook while they are on board. And these two SeaDream ships are beloved favourites. Many of the guests I spoke to on board were repeat cruisers who keep coming back again and again. I’ve sailed on SeaDream three times and look forward to experiencing the SeaDream 11 again after its big refit.
Gratuities are included in the fare, and there are no attempts to encourage more tips, which I really appreciate.
Service on the SeaDream II
The thing that SeaDream is most famous for is the personal service of its staff. They are professional, efficient and intuitive. Not sure how they are trained to be so good, but they never intrude and never neglect. That’s a fine balance. Because the ship is small, they know your name by the second day, and also how you like your coffee.
In addition to their celebrated level of service, there is the much talked about Surfside Champagne and Caviar barbecue that is celebrated on every cruise. This time it was held on the quiet and perfect Chrishi Beach on Nevis. Corks popped, caviar was served, along with all the traditional toppings, and we sunbathed, ate bbq and spent an extravagant and indulged afternoon in paradise. On a crossing, they served the caviar on a surfboard in the ship’s pool.
Also a memorable event is the Dessert Extravaganza. On the evening before disembarkation, the pastry chefs roll out tables of gorgeous sweets, pastries and mousse and tarts, arrayed like little treasures.
And also of note, the little surprises left on your bed each night – first the pjs, then a cap, maybe a scarf, or a SeaDream pen.
Because the ship is small, disembarking is easy. Guests need to be off the ship by ten, and that leaves time for a leisurely breakfast and last minute packing. Heavy bags can be placed outside rooms after midnight for pick-up on the last night. I only had carry-on and that made things uncomplicated. There were taxis waiting near the gangway for guests. Because we had a late afternoon flight, we had the taxi take us to the Sunset Bar and Grill on Maho Beach, a very cool bar right at the foot of the runway, famous for the noise and vibrations of departing and landing planes. We had a light lunch, grabbed some last rays and then took a quick taxi ride to the airport.
This is not the cruise for those looking for big entertainment, multiple specialty restaurants and indoor rock climbing walls. This is a more sedate and elegant cruise, with time for relaxing, with no pressure to be or do anything. There is lots of time to enjoy the interesting stories to be discovered from fellow passengers, and to savour fine wine and good food, all the while discovering new small ports and new adventures. It’s old school cruising at its best.
That may all change – the ship will get a complete facelift and the pictures I have seen of its new iteration look gorgeous, very modern and clean lined. Hopefully the thing that the two ships do so well – provide intimate and unhurried cruise experiences at the top end – will not change.
Cover photo: SeaDream II, credit Barbara Ramsay Orr
For more information about SeaDream Yacht Club see https://allthingscruise.com/cruise-research/cruise-lines/sea-dream-yacht-club/
To book a SeaDream Yacht Club cruise see https://www.cruisecompete.com/lines/seadream_yacht_club_cruises.html