REVIEW: Sea Cloud Spirit Makes a Splash!

Sea Cloud Cruises Sets Sail for America

I’m settled in the spacious lounge of Sea Cloud Spirit, an amber glow cast by a nearby table lamp illuminates the dish of taco chips before me and a bowl of what just might be the very best guacamole I’ve ever tasted. Trays of bacon-wrapped pigs in a blanket, popcorn, crunchy chicken strips and buckets of beer are nearby but it seems I’m the only one of the room’s 15 or so occupants whose attention is entirely focused on the delectable snacks and not on the giant American flag-bordered screen from which Super Bowl…whatever…is streaming.

I’m not a football fan. At all. But to savor that heavenly guacamole and those luscious pigs in a blanket I feign interest, figuring I’ll ask questions that just might suggest at least a minimal knowledge of the sport. “And which team does that guy Taylor Swift is seeing play on?” is the best I come up with.

German-based Sea Cloud Cruises has discovered America and, with its exciting new ship Sea Cloud Spirit, intends to draw U.S.-based travelers to the Sea Cloud family. In fact, the line hopes that, by year’s end, 40% of the ship’s guests will hail from the American market.

Sea Cloud Cruises, a fleet of three windjammers, each topped with a riot of dazzling white sails that are hoisted by hand, launched in 1992 with the still-sailing Sea Cloud, built in 1931 as the luxurious private yacht of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.  In 2001, the 94-passenger Sea Cloud II debuted and, in 2021, Sea Cloud Spirit, the 136-passenger, five-deck three-masted windjammer I’m sailing from Costa Rica to Panama, joined the fleet.

Until recently, Sea Cloud Cruises was marketed almost exclusively in Europe and on this sailing, the American contingent is vastly outnumbered by German guests, along with a handful of Swiss, Spanish, Mexican and Cuban ones.  Communications and menus are provided in both German and English; lectures and announcements, likewise.

Yet the remarkable Sea Cloud Spirit experience, her delectable cuisine, and the innovative things that set her apart from other cruises, comes through loud and clear in any language.

SETTING SAIL…LITERALLY (10/10)

It’s a vision from another time—billowing white sails adorn masts that reach 200 feet skyward and propel the sleek vessel through pristine waters. In fact, according to Sea Cloud Spirit’s Captain Heiner Ellers, the ship sails more than 40% of the time on wind power alone.

While there are certainly other windjammers sailing the seas, Sea Cloud’s are the only ones with sails set by hand just as they were 200 years ago. You can keep your slides and top-deck waterparks—nothing can compare to the spectacle of seeing Sea Cloud Spirit’s hardworking male and female sailors scurry up the masts like a determined band of tightrope walkers. On deck, guests shade their eyes from the sun and watch in awe as the sailors climb to dizzying heights, positioning themselves within the maze of rigging to manually unfurl the 44,100 square feet of heavy sail. It’s an hour-long process that ends with an equally amazing climb down the masts to manually address the system of ropes and pulleys that adjusts the sails.

Junior Suite

SUITES AND CABINS FIT FOR A QUEEN…OR AT LEAST AN HEIRESS (10/10)

It’s not surprising that a ship inspired by one of the most lavish private yachts ever built would have cabins fit for an heiress, and ones significantly larger than other sailing ships (from a 140 square-foot superior single stateroom to a 301 square-foot Suite)—some even feature a verandah accessed through an arched-windowed doorway. But it’s the attention to detail that is most staggering. My 237-square-foot Junior Suite with Balcony is a dazzler with spacious sitting area, two full closets tucked into a corner nook, beds dressed with the finest linens and the most luxurious pillows I’ve ever rested my head on. Artwork is spotlit and a polished wooden unit holds a TV that features on demand films, a Krups coffeemaker and minibar stocked with soft drinks and bottled water.  Everywhere, particularly in the stunning bathroom with shower, jacuzzi tub and gorgeous frosted golden bowl-style sink, is gleaming brass hardware, a Sea Cloud signature. And while outlets require a European plug, several USB ports for charging phones are available. My cabin category even includes free laundry—a huge plus on a steamy 11-night voyage.

There is, in fact, quite a bit of “free” stuff on Sea Cloud Spirit, a largely all-inclusive experience. All dining, gratuities and beverages (including cocktails, wines and beers) are included in fares as is one gigabyte of Starlink internet (packages offering additional internet access are available at an extra charge). Access to the ship’s thermal spa and, on my sailing, several shore excursions are also complimentary.

Only optional shore excursions, gift shop purchases, spa treatments, premium wines and transfers are charged separately.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ENTERTAINMENT (9/10)

A pelican perches for an hour on the rail of Sea Cloud Spirit and scores of stingrays gather together alongside the ship while dolphins frolic at the stern. Sometimes Sea Cloud Spirit’s best entertainment is provided not through organized activities but by nature itself.

Sea Cloud Spirit shuns today’s typical cruise ship entertainment options to create a unique adventure that celebrates the ship, the sea and the winds. You won’t find a casino, production shows, or even a swimming pool aboard Sea Cloud Spirit but, instead, invigorating experiences, some that even the most jaded cruise fan has likely never seen.

Sun worshippers can relax beneath those magnificent sails on Sun Deck loungers and in the partial shade of comfortable circular sunbeds or work out in the small ocean-view fitness center. On Cabin Deck, a spa area offers two treatment rooms, a Finnish sauna, steam bath, multi-sensory shower and more while a nearby boutique offers a selection of Sea Cloud branded items. Cabin Deck is also where guests access the swim platform:  Dive right into the surf for an invigorating swim or climb aboard one in the chain of floating loungers.

In the evenings, the Lido Deck is transformed from an outdoor dining venue to a dance club that kept some of us out until 1:00 a.m.!  On our sailing, too, four local Costa Rican musicians held court beneath the sails on the Sun Deck—and I’m not talking steel drums and “Yellow Bird,” but a rockin’ band that had everyone, even crew members, dancing all night!

Sea Cloud Spirit, its sails unfurled, is best viewed from the sea—a fact that has led to the introduction of the ship’s Photo Safari. As weather conditions allow, guests are taken for a Zodiac spin around the ship for a spectacular photo opportunity—in fact, the shot that leads this article Isn’t a professional one but taken by me during my Photo Safari.

Hoisting the Sails

And if you’re wondering what those three lines extending from the stern into the sea are, you just might find out at today’s lunch buffet. Where legally permitted, Sea Cloud Spirit often catches its fish right from the ocean using a simple bait and hook on each of the three lines. Chef Angelo explained the process to me as he set to work fileting a massive mahi mahi that was caught that very morning.

While Sea Cloud Spirit’s onboard entertainment is largely centered on relaxing pursuits like lectures that explore history and wildlife, the very nature of a sailing ship demands a degree of agility (although the ship does have an elevator). Landings are most often via Zodiac and navigating the Sun Deck, with its myriad ropes and winches often takes some care.

Lunchtime Paella
Chef Angelo and Cindy Hutson

A TASTE OF SEA CLOUD SPIRIT (9/10)

With the exception of the hamburger, hot dog and club sandwich dinner menu offered to football fans during the ship’s Super Bowl party, Sea Cloud Spirit’s dining leans more towards European formal than American grab-and-go. My 11 days on board, in fact, just might be the longest time I’ve ever spent without seeing a pizza. Even the Barbecue-themed dinner, served on deck, skipped typical American favorites like ribs, chicken and burgers in favor of more elegant fare like sirloin or ribeye steak and tuna-three-ways:  tartare, sashimi and grilled steak.

Unlike today’s newest cruise ships, Sea Cloud Spirit offers only two dining venues:  The Restaurant, a lovely indoor dining room with period decor that may accommodate all passengers at one open sitting; and the outdoor Bistro on the ship’s Lido deck. A full breakfast buffet in The Restaurant is supplemented by outdoor “early riser” and “late riser” options and a full lunch buffet is offered daily at the Bistro. Expect a dizzying number of prepared salads at lunch, a separate green salad station, and limited—but often spectacular—hot dishes, like an elaborate paella, carved roast turkey, spiny lobster, grilled filet mignon or a perfectly-spiced shrimp curry. Cheese and desserts follow though, sadly, Sea Cloud Spirit rarely ventures beyond vanilla, chocolate and strawberry in its ice cream flavors.

At dinner time, Sea Cloud Spirit guests often have the option of dining al fresco at The Bistro (which may be buffet style or served) or more formally at The Restaurant where Americans may find service rather slow. It takes a lot for me to forgo an outdoor dining experience for an indoor one, but the staggering heat and humidity of our Central American itinerary typically convinced me to do just that. Amazingly, the vast majority of my European shipmates preferred the sweat-inducing atmosphere outside. When asked why, one German gentleman simply shook his head and said, “You’ve obviously never been to Hamburg in February.”

An exciting addition to Sea Cloud Spirit’s dining program is its Guest Chef program which kicked off on our sailing with award-winning Miami culinary legend Cindy Hutson who contributed several superb dishes to gala dinner menus (including her Costa Rican Coffee Crusted Certified Angus Beef Skirt Steak which was not only my favorite dish on the cruise but maybe of my life),  dished out her extraordinary seviche at lunch one day, conducted a rum tasting enhanced by three of her delectable appetizers (pork crostini, black bean hummus and crispy coconut shrimp) and mingled cheerfully with food-loving guests.

Next up in Sea Cloud Spirit’s Guest Chef program is Chef Michael Collantes, head chef and owner of one Michelin star-rated Soseki in Winter Park, Florida, and Sushi Saint, Central Florida’s first handroll bar experience with a New York outpost opening soon. Chef Collantes sails Sea Cloud Spirit from Nice to Barcelona October 5-12, 2024.

In January 2025, Sea Cloud Spirt will homeport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and sailings will include overnight calls at boutique Caribbean islands, including St. Barts, Virgin Gorda and Norman Island.

FOR THOSE SEEKING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINAL SEA CLOUDWashington D.C.’s Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, one of the premier art collector’s museums in the United States, is currently inviting visitors to travel the high seas through a special exhibition dedicated to the original Sea Cloud, one of history’s most famous yachts, built in 1931 and still sailing!

Photos credit Judi Cuervo


See cruises here: Sea Cloud Cruises (cruisecompete.com)

 

 

 

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