What I’ve Always Loved…Only Better!
I wake to a gentle breeze and see a palette of orange, pink and gold spread across the sky. Beneath the flutter of the whisper-soft comforter that embraces me, I stretch, lift my head from the pillow and survey the endless emerald sea before me. I am clad in a pair of navy and white pajamas, personalized with my first name, that I discovered neatly folded on the bed in my suite yesterday morning.
I am sailing the Caribbean aboard the all-inclusive, award-winning, five-star SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream 2 and have just spent the night “sleeping under the stars” atop a Balinese dream bed, one of the most popular and most innovative signature experiences of this 21-year-old yacht cruise company.
I confess. I am almost annoyingly partial to SeaDream Yacht Club. When cruise-loving friends sing the praises of massive cruise ships that boast top-deck theme parks, waterslides and all sorts of high-tech gizmos, I will invariably counter with my adventures aboard SeaDream’s intimate 112-passenger, 4,260 grt balcony-less yachts that first entered service as Cunard’s SeaGoddesses in 1985. They think I’m nuts…until they experience SeaDream Yacht Club for themselves.
SeaDream Yacht Club bucked all the odds when it launched in September 2001, probably one of the worst environments for a travel start-up. Not only did the horrors of 9/11 impact the world’s tourism industry, but the trend in cruising had recently shifted with introduction of 100,000+ grt megaships designed to appeal to families. An intimate yacht, it was believed, wouldn’t stand a chance, yet here we are, over 20 years later, and SeaDream Yacht Club is thriving.
In December 2019—just three months before Covid 19 would bring the cruise industry and the entire world to a virtual halt–the cruise gods again smiled down upon SeaDream when the company opted to cancel its larger, 200+ passenger Innovation, a newbuild that was under construction at Damen Shipyard in the Netherlands. And here I was thinking that I made a fortunate decision having a haircut and buying 36 rolls of toilet paper at BJ’s Wholesale the week before the pandemic hit.
A New SeaDream:
With the cancellation of Innovation, SeaDream decided to invest $10 million dollars in upgrades and renovations to SeaDream 1 and SeaDream 2. The results I see today aboard SeaDream 2 are extraordinary: I find the yacht I fell in love with during my first sailing in 2002 but with meticulous upgrades that enhance my experience, not change it.
For a SeaDream veteran, the most startling transformation is the suite. Gone is the little nook that held a small TV between etched-glass-fronted cabinets and in its place is a slick 55” LED TV with a wide selection of movies, TV channels, daily program and other information related to the sailing. The result is a more open and angular design that delivers greater living and storage space. New, modern furnishings, hardware and linens complement the new design, while the addition of wi-fi (good wi-fi), USB/USBC charging ports and a selection of sensor lighting brings SeaDream 2 suites a cool, contemporary feel and function. (Note: When your cabin stewardess offers to demonstrate the lighting system, allow her to do so or, like me, you’ll tick off your roommate at 3:00 a.m. by turning on the bedroom lights when you really intended to illuminate the bathroom alone.)
On deck, the upgrades are equally as pronounced with The Sea Club, a new sunbathing area outfitted with two outdoor rain showers, a pair of couples’ Jacuzzis, Tuuci designer parasols, hammocks and an Instagram-inspired entrance wall that occupies the forward section of deck 6. But upgrades are evident across all outside decks, with Loro Piana Italian upholstery and cushions and plush Frette Italian towels bringing a touch of luxury to sunny afternoons by the swimming pool and new Seora Balinese Dream Beds bringing greater comfort to guests, like me, who love to “sleep under the stars.”
While the typical guest may not immediately notice the new Bolidt surface on the outdoor decking, I find myself, even in heels, walking more confidently thanks to what appears to be the decking’s distinct “non-slip” quality. As one who not too long ago dropped like a stone to the slippery deck of a major cruise ship, I just might appreciate SeaDream’s new deck surface most of all!
Still the SeaDream we know and love
When it comes to things I love—and that certainly includes SeaDream Yacht Club—I’m not a big fan of change. Today I board apprehensively, terrified that the open-air Topsiders Restaurant might now be enclosed or the stunning series of Ulf Nilson paintings might have been removed from the living room-like Salon or that, God forbid, Top of the Yacht, the warm and inviting circular wooden bar outside on deck 6 might now be constructed of glass and mirrored panels.
But, no. Almost immediately, I realize my fears are unfounded.
After a quick Covid test, I stroll up the gangway and, as always, am greeted by the captain and offered a glass of champagne by Emir, the yacht’s sommelier. Before me is the same sparkling swimming pool surrounded by its pale blue tile, the SeaDream logo shimmering up through the pool’s salt water. In the far corner, there’s the tiny pool bar from which waiters circulate, fetching drinks and snacks, cleaning sunglasses and even offering unsolicited flutes of champagne to guests immersed in the hot tub just to “complete the picture” as one once told me.
I am greeted by name by so many of SeaDream’s crew that they feel like old friends. For so many SeaDream veterans, seeing Frank or Christophe or Jamie or Louie or Gareth or Nic or Anna again ranks high on the list of things that lure them back to SeaDream over and over.
Tonight we are sailing during dinner hours so we head to the Main Dining Salon following indoor cocktails at The Salon. The five-course menu is a triumph in both taste and presentation, filled with succulent lobster, duck, veal, seafood and pasta options along with a full vegan section that could tempt even the most dedicated carnivore (although no carnivore with any sense would pass up my tender pastry-encased veal wellington, swimming in a puddle of rich and savory sauce). No wonder SeaDream has amassed so many culinary awards! Wines—like all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the ship—are free-flowing at all times.
I’m delighted to see the Main Dining Salon unchanged, an elegant setting, its paneled walls adorned with sheer-curtained windows and stunning displays of Norwegian crystal in recessed nooks.
As lovely as dinner is tonight, I can’t help but look forward to tomorrow, when we’ll sail in the late evening, our anchored position permitting al fresco dining at Topside Restaurant. Particularly in the Caribbean, Topside is the dining venue of choice aboard the intimate SeaDream 2, allowing guests to view the glittering ocean and the lights that shine from the tropical land in the distance. While Topside supplements its full breakfast and lunch menus with a small buffet (vegans will be overjoyed with Topside’s luncheon salad offerings and non-vegans might be tempted to make a meal of buffet options like sweet crab claws or tender sliced turkey), dinner is an elegant affair, fully served, with dishes just as creative and delicious as those served in the indoor Dining Salon.
Let’s Dance! After a five-course dinner, dancing sounds good, so I head to Top of the Yacht and find spruced up tabletops but the bar’s circular highly-polished wood design, so conducive to mingling, remains unchanged. Top of the Yacht, by day, is a popular al fresco watering hole where movie star-handsome Gareth holds court, providing drinks and entertaining chat in his charming South African accent. Guests gather, most seeking a short refuge from the sun or sharing the day’s adventures in port, sipping a cocktail and often finding afternoon snacks like delectable fried shrimp, juicy and cooling fruit skewers or chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. On certain nights, however, Top of the Yacht is transformed into a dance club, with Activities Director Jess spinning (or at least selecting from a laptop) popular dance hits and taking requests–even honoring this guest’s request for “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, a song I don’t think anyone has paid attention to in 30 years. Sometimes, even a bartender or two will hit the dance floor along with the guests.
While I get down and get funky to “Safety Dance,” other guests are two decks below at The Piano Bar, so familiar to me, singing along with Josh’s excellent renditions of everything from Caribbean favorites to Frank Sinatra, or trying their luck at the nearby single-table casino. Maybe they’ve grabbed a drink and are relaxing nearby in The Library, a stunning and serene room (so serene that daily yoga classes are held there) filled with gorgeous bookcases, cocktail tables, couches, easy chairs and a pair of computer terminals.
It’s tempting to join them but I’ll keep dancing because SeaDream’s dessert extravaganza took place yesterday at poolside and, despite having packed my workout gear, I haven’t gone near the fitness center or spa yet. I haven’t even taken advantage of the free mountain bikes SeaDream offers to guests looking to explore the islands on their own.
A Whole Yacht of Fun!
It’s morning in Jost van Dyke! And right about now, fans of big ships are asking themselves “Jost van WHAT??” Well, that’s part of the beauty of SeaDream.
On this sailing, SeaDream 2 has visited islands that big ships couldn’t dream of calling at: among them, the lovely Isla Saona, St. John, Norman Island and, today, Jost van Dyke. At these exclusive yachting ports, you won’t find throngs of cruise passengers crowding the streets and beaches are blissfully empty. I actually changed out of my bathing suit on Honeymoon Beach in St. John and nobody saw my butt. Try that in St. Thomas when nine ships are in.
After breakfast at Top of the Yacht, I head poolside to meet Club Director Jamie who will be leading a hike from White Bay to Foxy’s Bar. (The captain made a special stop at Foxy’s last night and many guests ventured out to this legendary yachting haunt. I didn’t join them, but you really have to love a captain who makes a special stop so that his guests can hit a bar.)
Since the small dock in Jost van Dyke cannot even accommodate the yacht’s tenders, the hikers board a Zodiac and speed across the water to the little island. The largely uphill hike is burning calories, probably not enough to undo the caloric damage of three truffles and a crème brulee, but it helps. Along the way, we pass goats…lots of goats…but are rewarded with a hilltop view SeaDream 2, sitting majestically in the bay.
Directly from our hike, we return to White Bay for the ultimate SeaDream signature event: The Champagne and Caviar Splash, a decadent and raucous beach party that begins with guests arriving by Zodiac to be met by drink-bearing waiters who think nothing of walking right into the surf to deliver the libation. As guests frolic in the surf, the party begins! Corks are popped, champagne sprayed and suddenly SeaDream 2’s chef and hotel manager are there, waist-deep in the water, behind a surfboard topped with caviar and its accoutrements. Guests wade closer and are served the delicacy atop tender blinis while champagne-toting waiters refill champagne flutes. (At least that’s how it usually goes, but rough surf the day of our party required the caviar-topped surfboard be placed at the water’s edge.)
Since man can’t live on champagne and caviar alone, what follows is a lavish barbecue lunch beneath a structure built by SeaDream to protect its guests from scorching sun and Caribbean rainfall. The menu includes salads, sides, desserts, salmon, burgers, sausage, chicken and the best barbecued ribs of my life. Seriously.
Woozy but sated, I return to SeaDream 2 via Zodiac and discover the sports platform is open! Yet another innovative SeaDream feature, the sports platform is a gateway to the sea and, depending upon local regulations, guests can board wave runners, kayaks, paddleboards, or waterski. Jost van Dyke’s requirements prohibit motorized water toys, so it’s kayaks, paddleboards or simply enjoying the experience of diving right into the sea from the platform, as I do.
After my swim, I climb back aboard the yacht shaking off water like a cat after a rainstorm and settle myself into a poolside deck chair to dry off. “Ms. Cuervo?” I open my eyes to see bar waiter Nic extending a flute of champagne to me.
And right then I realize that SeaDream 2, though extensively renovated, still feels like home. A nicer home, certainly, but still home.
Photos courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club where noted, remaining photos courtesy of Judi Cuervo