DAY 1: Embarkation
SeaDream II sits in San Juan’s terminal 4. It’s easy to miss her hidden among the behemoths that occupy the docks along this popular cruise ship port.
In these days of massive, 100+ gross ton cities at sea, SeaDream II and her sister ship SeaDream I, 4,300 gross ton megayachts carrying only 112 passengers, have been transporting holiday makers for over 30 years, first as Cunard’s Sea Goddesses and, later as the Seabourn Goddesses.
In September 2001, arguably the worst time to launch a travel start up, SeaDream Yacht Club was born, aggressively bucking the industry trend that favored the construction of larger and larger cruise ships outfitted with elaborate deck-top water parks, specialty dining venues and thousands and thousands of passengers. At the time, few believed the intimate SeaDream ambiance would appeal to the fast-changing cruising public which now included a growing number of families seeking options like ice skating rinks—options that could never be offered by the diminutive sisters of SeaDream Yacht Club.
Now, nearly 20 years later, SeaDream has proved the naysayers wrong. Amassing scores of “best” awards and accolades during its 20-year existence, boasting an impressive number of loyal guests devoted exclusively to the SeaDream all-inclusive cruise experience (beverages, bottled water, gratuities and internet from the two Mac computers located in the ship’s library), SeaDream has captured—dare I say “invented”—the increasingly popular yacht cruise market.
Carole and I flew down to San Juan yesterday, escaping the frigid temperatures of a New York City November. A one-night stay, pre-cruise, let us avoid flight delays that would have stressed us out—even freaked us out—had we chosen to travel the day of sailing. It also provided an extra day of pre-cruise sun and a wonderful dinner of shrimp with garlic sauce, savory, pea-studded yellow rice and a couple of glasses of a delicious chilled Albarino at the excellent (though atmospherically non-descript) Deaverdura Restaurant before turning in early at our room at La Terrazza Hotel, a lovely establishment on Calle del Sol run by a friendly Venezuelan couple who arrived in San Juan via Queens, New York over 20 years ago.
The sun shines down on a surprisingly sleepy Old San Juan as Carole and I make our way to Terminal 4 and SeaDream II’s 2:00 p.m. embarkation.
Embarkation is probably the first—no! The second!—difference guests will find in the SeaDream experience. The first comes weeks before when cruise documents arrive in a slick navy blue gift box filled with laminated, personalized luggage tags, two quality SeaDream luggage straps and a folder filled with stepped cards, each outlining a different aspect of the upcoming cruise and the cruise ticket. There’s no navigating a challenging cruise website and coaxing a cruise ticket from your home printer with SeaDream Yacht Club.
If your concept of embarkation includes massive lines of people snaking around barriers that lead up to multiple check in desks, paperwork and a photo stop, you haven’t sailed SeaDream Yacht Club. With a such a small guest capacity, embarkation on SeaDream II means strolling up the gangway to be greeted personally by the ship’s captain, club director and activities director. A member of the waitstaff hovers nearby ready to offer a welcome flute of champagne, a glass of wine or a delightfully refreshing glass of watermelon juice. Chilled towels are offered by one of the ladies who staff the ship’s highly-rated full-service salon and spa—the towels a welcome treat after the Caribbean sun.
Aboard SeaDream II this afternoon, guests mingle around the pool sipping their libations or retreat to the ship’s Salon where full drink service and welcome canapes are offered. Already we are indulging in the camaraderie that only a ship as intimate as ours can foster. Americans (primarily), English, Bermudians, a group of 12 Norwegians and a handful of other nationalities mix and mingle, some of us having met previously on past SeaDream sailings. The social magic that is SeaDream has already begun!
DAY 2: Virgin Gorda…. Almost
After a heavenly night’s sleep in our 195 square-foot suite outfitted with two lower beds, marble bathroom with powerful shower and body jets and a shelf filled with Bulgari toiletries, I head to the gym for an hour-long workout that, hopefully, will compensate for some of the damage done by last night’s dinner: cloud-like gnocchi served in a “basket” constructed of luscious fried cheese and topped by a rich and creamy sauce, a refreshing cucumber tamale garnished with bamboo sprouts and a rose petal served alongside a half-moon garnish of crunchy chopped pistachio nuts, tender John Dory filet, moist with a glistening touch of buttery sauce. For dessert, it was the sweet and salty white chocolate selection from the petit fours tray and olive oil—yes, olive oil—ice cream, a slightly-fruity creamy concoction. Wish me luck with the daily work outs.
Like all suites on board, our living space does not feature a balcony and I quickly discover it doesn’t matter. On a yacht of this size, it is mere steps before I am at the open-air pool deck with its teak tables, and cushioned wicker chairs and loungers. Or, as I do today, I can shoot up the carpeted stairs (or take the elevator) to Top of the Yacht, an open-air watering hole that, in the afternoons and evenings, is the social heart of SeaDream but early each morning offers coffee service, juices, a selection of pastries…and solitude. Two captain’s chairs are positioned aft, one port and one starboard, with a handy pair of powerful binoculars beside each.
Today we wake to a surprise—and not a good one. The weather surrounding Virgin Gorda, which was to be our first port, is far too rough for the tender operation to run safely so the captain steers us to Tortola instead. We know the guy’s not yankin’ our chain because we were rocked—literally—to sleep last night and even now, a few coffee cups and trays hit the deck during the full breakfast service at the al fresco Topside Restaurant.
A few words about Topside, probably my favorite restaurant at sea. Unlike most outdoor dining venues, guests arrive at Topside to find tables formally set with china, glass and silver. A small appetizer buffet is available at breakfast and lunch but supplemented by a full menu whipped up by the chefs at the restaurant’s outdoor kitchen and served course-by-course by charming and uber-efficient waitstaff who seem to know your name the moment you board. Diners are protected from the direct sun by a sky-lit sunroof while the open sides allow gentle breezes to waft through the area and allow views of the crystal blue waters and lush Caribbean landscape. Ceiling fans whir above on particularly steamy days.
The sun shines down on the streets of Tortola this morning but, being Sunday, we find most shops shuttered and only tours of the island aboard open-air trolleys are being hawked by locals. Most of us head back to SeaDream II to spend the day poolside, cooling off in the salt water pool while attentive waiters keep our glasses full—champagne seems to be the most popular libation this afternoon but with an open bar throughout the entire cruise, I spot a few mojitos, margaritas, pina coladas being delivered to sun worshippers and, of course, cool, lemon-spiked glasses of water.
At mid-afternoon I crash, returning to my suite for a nap before getting relatively gusssied up (no formal anything aboard SeaDream II, though people do seem to have that “elegantly casual” thing down to a tee) for the Captain’s Welcome Party in The Salon.
The Salon, a circular lounge done in restful shades of blues and grays with silver and wooden accents is, like all of SeaDream II, a comfortable yet informal space adorned with framed quirky maritime art created by Norwegian artist Ulf Nilsen, one of Norway’s most famous artists. Tonight, waiters circulate, pouring champagne, delivering drinks and placing dishes of warm mixed nuts on tables. A buffet of hors d’oeuvres includes cheeses, vegetables and meats. On this special night, a waiter stands alongside a massive tin of caviar and its accoutrements, assembling the delicacy on tender blini while guests add their choice of toppings like minced onion, chopped egg and sour cream.
The captain takes the stage to welcome us and introduce his senior officers, and then it’s off to the Dining Salon for dinner. I opt for an earthy pumpkin soup and veal wellington, a tender and generous slab of veal topped with mushroom duxelle and wrapped in a flaky puff pastry. Dessert is a decadent chocolate fondant, along with that little mound of crunchy white chocolate from the petit fours tray. Wow, I love that thing.
There’s a lot going on tonight for such a small yacht and after imbibing a bit too much red wine at dinner, I am loopy enough to take the microphone at The Piano Bar to totally destroy The Kinks’ hit Lola, and then dance disco—disco!—at Top of the Yacht as we sail towards Anguilla.
DAY 3: Surprise…St. Barts!
I wake…. fragile. Have I mentioned that SeaDream’s bar is an open one with all wines, cocktails and champagne included in the price of passage? On this morning, I really can’t recall if I did or not.
Before the gym—I vow to visit each morning so it won’t be necessary to buy a wardrobe in a larger size when I return home–coffee is imperative. It’s quiet at Top of the Yacht as I sip my coffee from the wide-base anchor-print navy and white mugs that have come to be a SeaDream signature over the years. This early—before 7:00 a.m. (I’m a chronically early riser), I’m alone. I suspect my shipmates are also feeling the effects of last night’s festivities—at least I hope they are so that maybe they’ll have forgotten my version of Lola at the piano bar.
Later, showered and refreshed, I hear an update from the captain: Another day of rough seas is forcing us to cancel our call at Anguilla! Oh no! Safety and comfort is—on any ship, anywhere—of supreme importance and skipping a port is sometimes the reality of cruising. Today’s announcement, however, is not greeted with disappointment. The cancellation of Anguilla means more time at St. Bart’s, playground of the rich and famous and, without doubt, the port that most of us have been most looking forward to. It feels like an unexpected gift to be arriving there so far ahead of schedule.
We’ve been aboard SeaDream II now for three days so despite the lure of the upscale shops that line the harbor, Carole and I decide to take a stroll—yes, a stroll—to the nearby Shell Beach, a quick walk from where our SD2 tender has dropped us off, passing the magnificent yachts that dot the harbor in Gustavia. When will I learn? Shell Beach, as its name implies, is nearly entirely covered by shells and, most distressing, broken and jagged pieces of shell which makes walking along the beach a painful and potentially dangerous endeavor. Even worse, there’s not a lick of shade to protect us from the burning sun.
Taxi! Off we go to St. Jean (just about 10 minutes and a 20 Euro fare away) and the strip of chic resorts and beaches that line its coast. We’re not nearly cool or glamorous enough to park our butts on the famed Nikki Beach and certainly not daring enough to hang out (literally) on a nude beach, so we claim a spot on the posh-but-laid-back Pearl Beach, with its soft sand, turquoise sea and atmospheric boulders in the surf. Restaurants and bars dot the coast but we’re content to remain submerged in the crystal waters and pop out only for cooling breaks beneath the shade of trees and shrubbery.
After a relaxing afternoon under the sun, we grab a taxi to return to SeaDream and get a close-up look at St. Barts’ airport which has one of the shortest runways in the world. An approaching plane appears to be hovering about 20 feet above our moving taxi, on approach to the runway. I vow that I’ll only visit St. Barts aboard ship.
A post-beach afternoon nap and I wake in time to shower and slip into a casual outfit to join my shipmates at cocktail hour around the pool. I can’t resist the dazzling selection of sushi but, after last night, I slowly nurse one glass of champagne (and promise myself I’ll avoid the Piano Bar) and chat with my shipmates about our adventures in St. Barts.
Under the balmy skies of St. Barts, it’s not surprising that tonight is all about open air activities—from the poolside cocktail hour to dinner at the al fresco Topside Restaurant. I start with a mushroom soup that is rich, creamy and earthy with an intoxicating aroma and flavor and make a note to request—even beg—for the recipe before I disembark. A green salad follows before the main course: Two tender and briny lobster tails, grilled and served atop a bed of julienned string beans alongside a scoop of rice and a puddle of delicious and velvety seafood sauce. I couldn’t possibly indulge in dessert yet the avocado and coconut ice cream on the menu sounds not only intriguing but healthy. Sort of healthy at least.
Tonight I vow to keep my tipple to a minimum and enjoy one glass of the dry Italian white served at dinner. Tomorrow I’ll be shopping in the crazy expensive St. Barts, so I really must keep my wits about me. I retire early, skipping SeaDream II’s showing of Bohemian Rhapsody on the pool deck—complete with popcorn and drink service. As I head back to my suite, I faintly hear Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” blaring from the speakers and I am convinced that Freddie Mercury is, from the beyond, urging me to hit the gym tomorrow morning.
Day 4: St. Barts…Take Two!
You really gotta love St. Barts. We tender over, start meandering through the sun-drenched streets, past high-end shops along the harbor and I fall in love with a simple yellow and pink sleeveless cotton shift in a boutique window. I must try it on and when I do, it’s a bit snug (duh…with the way we’ve been eating on SeaDream, big, big, big surprise) but the owner gleefully tells me that she has the next size. No, thank you. While in the dressing room, I had a look at the price tag: 510…euros, the currency used in St. Barts.
Now, I’d cheerfully fork over the equivalent of $550 for this simple cotton shift if they threw in matching shoes, a bag and maybe a pair of earrings but unless I owned one of the massive yachts in the harbor, it simply isn’t going to happen.
We forge on, past designer shops like Dolce & Gabbana, Bulgari and more until we arrive at Rue du Générale de Gaulle and Laurant Effel.
Since my first visit to St. Barts many years ago, I have popped into these shops run by a delightful French woman with an uncanny ability to remember each of her customers even if it has been two years between visits. Today, she not only greets me by name and gives me a hug but asks how I’m enjoying the brown leather woven bag I purchased there last December. If she wasn’t so lovely, it would almost be creepy.
One of the shops sells quality leather bags while the other focuses on shoes and the third stocks magnificent men’s linen shirts with color-drenched tropical prints. Laurent Effel is the bargain of St. Barts—not K-Mart prices by any means, but let’s just say that I returned to the ship with a gorgeous black leather crossbody bag (the owner suggested I enhance it further by tying an Hermes scarf to it…what can I say? She is French) and a men’s linen shirt adorned with whimsical swatches of color. The men’s shirt, size 1, fit me perfectly and marks the first time in my life that I’ve worn something with a size label lower than an 8.
With yesterday being our St. Barts beach day, lunch on board and an afternoon poolside seemed like an excellent way to recover from our shopping expedition.
We head to lunch at Topside Restaurant where the gang is all assembled. By the “gang,” I mean the waitstaff, cooks, bar staff and restaurant manager, all of whom feel like friends by now. They know our names and we know theirs, particularly Louie, who I’ve seen aboard since my first SeaDream cruise in 2002. Frank, the sommelier, approaches with the delightful rose’ he knows I love. I fetch a small appetizer plate of some of the plant-based salad fixings that include spicy arugula, tender spinach and a vast selection of things like tapenade, hummus, roasted pecans, macadamia nuts, vegetables and more…and who could resist a few of the delicate crab legs piled high on the buffet and served with a spicy cocktail sauce? Severin takes my plate and carries it to my corner table where I find that Frank has topped off my rose’. My main course, slices of creamy mozzarella and ripe red tomatoes dressed with a pesto sauce rich with basil, garlic, pine nuts and parmigiana, is delivered by Emmir once I’ve polished off the appetizers.
This crew is a happy one—smiling and cheerful, with each other and their guests. Hailing from the world over (there are 15 different nationalities among the 94-member crew), they not only provide impeccable service, but anticipate their guests desires—usually before a guest even asks. Emmir overhears me express a love for kroepoek, an airy and crisp Indonesian shrimp chip, and a plate of them appears with my lunch—even though I had not ordered the nasi goreng with which the chips were served. All this with gratuities included in the fare.
And kudos to SeaDream for treating them well, even down to their attire. Unlike some lines where crew members swelter in long-sleeve polyester uniforms beneath the Caribbean sun, SeaDream crew are attired in cool cotton shirts and shorts. The type of outfit you’d find…well…on a yacht.
After lunch, it’s sports time at the marina! I watch two guys soar across the water aboard jet skis, leaping, racing and drawing designs on the sea with their churning, bubbling wake. Someone else is waterskiing, a SeaDream zodiac speeding them along the water’s surface. And all of this activity, all of the equipment needed is, yes, included in the fare. A banana boat, kayaks, trampoline sit at the base of the platform waiting for guests to jump in. You can keep your on-board water parks—SeaDream brings the waterpark to the water…where it’s the most exhilarating!
On this glorious evening, cocktails again are served poolside and we are treated to a fashion show, comprising ship’s crew and spa attendants. Sure, it’s a sales pitch—and I love the white A-line skirt–but an entertaining one with the models camping it up and working the “runway.”
Chateaubriand, fork tender and medium rare, is my dinner tonight, after a delectable appetizer of dense and flavorful chicken croquettes. But damn if I wasn’t sorely tempted to order a vegan selection—lentil shepherd’s pie—from tonight’s highly inventive plant-based options. Vegans need not fear boarding SeaDream II to find lettuce leaves one of the few options available to them. Even this carnivore was tempted again and again by the selections beneath the “Plant-Based and Vegan” section of each menu….Vegan Chocolate Mousse cake, anyone?
The small casino—just one table—is active tonight but the real action is at the piano bar. The group spills into the library beside it, enjoying drinks and conversation in this lovely room outfitted with comfortable couches and easy chairs. It’s like the extravagant living room of a good friend. A very, very rich friend with impeccable taste.
DAY 5: Nevis…And a Bedtime Story
My first visit to Nevis and I am tempted to board one of SeaDream II’s mountain bikes and join Club Director Gareth for a “SeaDream Active,” a complementary activity that in today’s instance promises to be a manageable (just a few hills) ride to the island’s one-runway airport. I have, however, just learned that it’s snowing in New York City so it’s only natural that a beach day easily wins out.
Carole and I disembark and are whisked away by Sam, the taxi driver, to Pinney’s Beach. I’ve checked the taxi rate pamphlet at the dockside visitor’s desk and see the fare is $20. Sam, when asked, confirms the fare to be $10, which we assume is a per person rate—no problem, mon.
Yet, as we offer the $20 plus tip at the end of the ride, he corrects us: It’s $10 total. As New Yorkers, we are astounded that a taxi driver wouldn’t jump on an opportunity to scam a couple of dizzy tourists out of $10 and Sam confesses how his conscience would have bothered him if he had. Sam’s our new best friend.
Pinney’s Beach is lovely. Not Eden Rock lovely, perhaps, but a calm stretch of emerald water with SeaDream II anchored in the distance. Bars and restaurants dot the shore, including Sunshine’s the beach shack home of a potent rum drink called The Killer Bee.
We rent deck chairs with umbrellas for $5 each (we sure aren’t in St. Barts anymore) and already regret the arrangement we made with Sam to pick us up at noon, only two hours from now. Really, really regret it, in fact.
At about 11:30 a.m., we realize we don’t want to leave this lovely, sun-drenched paradise and scoot over to Sunshine’s on the off chance that Sam is a popular figure on the island. He is. But just as the bartender is looking for Sam’s phone number so we can ask him to extend our stay, Sam appears and agrees to add a couple of hours to our pre-arranged departure.
Lunchtime at Sunshine’s! Jimmy Buffet tunes surround us as we take our seats at a picnic table that, like the rest of the establishment is splashed with vibrant color. Vivid flags of all nations and mounted license plates are the predominant decor. The bar itself looks like it was crafted by Playskool—bright oranges, yellows, greens and reds beneath a tin roof. We peruse the menu of simple island classics that Sunshine’s cooks whip up on a smoky barbecue, including locally-caught fish sandwiches, barbecued chicken and shrimp and I order my first Killer Bee, a rum-based concoction of…who knows what. The exact recipe is closely guarded and even a bartender aboard SeaDream II later confesses that he has researched the drink extensively and has been unable to come up with the precise ingredient list.
I enjoy a barbecue chicken sandwich (they, sadly, were out of the conch fritters that I’ve been hankering for since I hit the Caribbean) and moments before finishing my second Killer Bee (talk about a “buzz”), Sam appears at our table to whisk us back to SeaDream II. As I say goodbye to Nevis, I’m left with the thought that, based on Sam, this remarkable island is an oasis of honest, dependable and punctual people. And they make a damn good cocktail and chicken sandwich as well.
This afternoon, despite the weariness that comes with a day at the beach, I skip my nap because my bedtime ritual will be a bit different this evening: I’ll be sleeping under the stars.
High atop SeaDream II, on deck six, are a collection of 11 Balinese sunbeds, thick mattress-like loungers that, during the day, are popular with sunbathers, readers and those simply looking to relax beneath the yacht’s majestic stack. Some SeaDream genius must have realized that by simply affixing a fitted sheet, adding a fluffy comforter and a couple of pillows, these Balinese beds could morph into true beds that would allow guests to fall asleep gazing at the moon, the stars and the night sky. Guests simply reserve their bed at reception and that evening the bed is made up, waiting for them to slip under the covers.
But SeaDream doesn’t stop there. Upon embarkation, guests discover a pair of pajamas for each person in their cabin, specifically provided for sleeping under the stars: Luxuriously soft drawstring pants and a Henley-style top, embroidered with the SeaDream logo…and the guest’s first name.
While the most popular sunbed is the massive, private one situated forward, 10 others line the port and starboard sides aft. Two of these are what Carole and I have claimed as our own tonight.
So after an evening that featured a poolside cocktail hour with a special Caribbean rum drink station offering heady, tropical cocktails and a Tom Cruise-in-Cocktail performance by South African bartenders Byron and Connor, an alfresco dinner (you must try the intensely flavorful osso bucco!), and a poolside dessert extravaganza with a dazzling display of cakes, rich custards, chocolates and buttery bananas foster flambeed before our eyes, we forgo the poolside dance party and go to sleep early.
The linens. I expect high-thread-count sheets from Sea Dream in my suite but we find the same luxury hugging the mattresses of our Balinese beds. Soft and silky, the pristine white duvet and fitted sheet are tucked tightly around the “mattress” and I slip in and gaze at the night sky, catching two shooting stars before I surrender to sleep. The combined effects of the Killer Bees of this afternoon, the Caribbean sun, some champagne and wine, a hearty and delicious dinner and a few dessert samplings overtake me and I’m rocked to sleep while cool breezes waft across the deck.
AND THEN ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!
At about 3:00 a.m., I groggily come to when it feels as though I’m being massaged and patted head to toe by an unseen force. In my sleep, I’ve loosened the tightly-tucked linens and they rise and fall with the steady gusts. A particularly strong gust lifts the duvet and I feel as though I’m resting beneath a wildly billowing sail. It’s by no means an unpleasant sensation but I decide to return to the more predictable behavior of my suite’s linens, passing two forward beds occupied by couples snoring slightly and, by all appearances, blissfully unaware of that any moment, their duvet might blow overboard.
“Sleeping Under the Stars” is one of many magical moments of a SeaDream Yacht Club Cruise. For a ship as—let’s face it—tiny as a SeaDream yacht, the line manages to pull out of their bag of tricks extraordinary experiences that outdo those of the biggest, glitziest, most high-tech mega ships at sea. I can’t decide if I’m so awed by SeaDream II because she conjures this magic despite her small size or because of it.
DAY 6: St. Kitts…At the Beach Club
This morning I skip my work out for the first time this cruise, even knowing that I’ll be plagued all day with the guilt that comes from being all too familiar with the culinary temptations of SeaDream II. Not to mention the booze.
Today we arrive at St. Kitts, another island I’ve never visited before. We’ll dock at South Friars Bay, a blessing since three large cruise ships are calling at Basseterre which guarantees that its streets will be swarming with thousands of visitors.
At our alfresco breakfast at Topsiders, I choose some of the sweet pineapple and watermelon slices from the vast selection of fruit available at the buffet each morning but forgo the home-made tangy yogurt topped with crunchy nut and raisin-studded granola that I’ve been enjoying all week. Instead, I’m tempted by the full breakfast menu. Without my daily workout, I avoid the hearty French Toast topped with a sweet peach compote, and the omelets bursting with melted cheese and a choice of fillings like spinach, mushroom, pepper and onion and order the morning’s special. The dish arrives—a thick slab of pungent and crunchy rye toast slathered with creamy mashed avocado and topped with a single fried egg. Substantial, yet healthy.
As if SeaDream II doesn’t always move heaven and earth to provide guests with luxury and convenience, today we’ll be tendering right up to Carambola Beach Club, a surfside resort that features calm turquoise waters and a beach bar/restaurant. Deck chairs and umbrellas are available free to us aboard SeaDream II and we join the resort’s guests for an afternoon under the sun or for snorkeling behind the boulders that form a shallow bay behind the beach. Some of my more adventurous shipmates are heading off to a shore excursion described as a 5-line zip line journey 25 stories above the ground (ummm…no thank you) while others choose to brave the big ship crowds for shopping in Basseterre.
Back on board, we find the sports platform buzzing for the third day in a row, jet skis soaring and kayaks gliding across the sparkling sea. The zip-liners return, living to rave—absolutely rave–about the exhilarating adventure.
It’s beginning to hit me that our SeaDream II cruise is nearing its end. It’s sobering to realize that in just two days, I’ll be back to work, whipping up a quick sandwich for dinner (usually with an individual bag of potato chips as my “vegetable”). I’ll no longer be presented at breakfast, lunch and dinner with an extensive menu of exciting and inventive dining options or be relaxing on SeaDream II’s uncrowded pool deck or watching magnificent sunsets from Top of the Yacht and enjoying conversation with other guests from all over the world. I’ll no longer be spoiled by the smiling, cheerful crew, all of whom know my name, and seem hell-bent on granting my every wish. I won’t be returning to my suite to find it spotless and organized to an inch of its life, often with surprise gifts like a lovely silk and wool scarf (which will come in handy when I deplane to a temperature of 30 degrees at JFK), earbuds, a quality SeaDream pen and a lovely lavender sachet. I’ll soon be climbing into my shower to find a bottle of Pantene and Rainbath shower gel instead of the little line-up of luxury Bulgari toiletries that are frequently replenished in my SeaDream suite. My shower at home doesn’t even have body jets.
Yes, it will soon all end. But, first, we’ll visit Jost Van Dyke for SeaDream II’s signature beach party. Talk about saving the best for last.
DAY 7: The Grand…and I mean GRAND…Finale!
Jost van Dyke, the smallest of the four main islands of the British Virgin Islands, is, quite simply, paradise with powder white sand, crystal blue waters and lush green mountains in the distance. It’s often referred to as “The Party Island” since the beaches of White Bay are dotted with tropical hot spots like Soggy Dollar (home of the fruity, coconut and pineapple-laced rum drink The Painkiller) and Foxy’s a steamy celebration of Caribbean food, music and drink—think dancing in the sand and a lot of strong rum!
SeaDream II delivers us to Jost van Dyke via Zodiac, motor-driven inflatable boats that in themselves are a treat to ride. After donning a life vest, we climb in and speed toward the pristine shore where we wet land—leave the expensive leather sandals back on board—right into the ocean. Immediately we’re greeted by Frank, Byron and Connor bearing trays of Painkillers and flutes of champagne. Guests spot the SeaDream flag, planted in the soft sand and, before heading into the gentle waves, pose beside it holding their glasses high. The party has begun!
Beach umbrellas and deck chairs, each topped with a SeaDream beach towel, occupy our own private area of the beach and a stack of “noodles” and floats sit by, ready for those who’d like to immerse themselves in the warm clear waters without exerting any effort. Reggae music fills the air and beyond the area of deck chairs, chefs are hard at work, preparing special dishes, and striking up the barbecue to prepare for the lavish lunch that lies ahead.
The Painkillers and champagne are flowing, served by roving, wading and swimming uniformed bartenders who won’t allow something as insignificant as four feet of surf to get in the way of refilling a guest’s champagne glass.
Had SeaDream II stopped right there, with an exclusive visit to a private section of one of the planet’s most glorious beaches and weird, wet and wonderful bar service, she would have dazzled her guests, bringing them a fantastic experience that inspires pure delight…but, suddenly, she soars to even greater heights.
Unbelievably, there is now a tablecloth-covered surfboard in the water, precariously stabilized by some of those now-drenched bartenders and while guests wade closer and closer, they see what is happening. Atop the surfboard is a massive tin of caviar, blini and toppings and behind the surfboard is SeaDream II’s head chef Tomasz Kozlowski and Hotel Manager Jamie Macgregor, urging guests to approach and indulge in the decadent SeaDream ritual which is Champagne & Caviar in the Surf. I am being cautious—certain I’ll lose my balance in the water and topple the board and the people securing it—when I hear “Ms. Cuervo! Ms. Cuervo” and I see Louie extending a luscious caviar-topped blini to me. I’m no fool: I swim over and pluck it from his hand.
Where’s the bubbly? Frank suddenly appears near the surfboard, shaking a bottle of the stuff mischievously, popping the cork and spraying the gleeful guests with a shower of champagne. He’s joined by others and the surf has been transformed from a tranquil sea of blue to the grandest party at sea…or in the sea, rather.
It seems there’s no end to the exuberance of the guests—or the tin of caviar—but the aromas of the barbecue are luring many of us to the picnic tables beneath the covered structure built by SeaDream specifically for this event. The buffet table is filled with sumptuous dishes: Nearly a whole row of salads, including Caesar with a separate dish of anchovies on the side; creamy onion-spiked chunky potato salad; moist and plump charred-skinned barbecued chicken, grilled skewers of tender shrimp, succulent and meaty pork ribs that melt off the bone accompanied by a tangy barbecue sauce, chorizo and other sausages, their casings bearing the marks of the scorching hot grill; sliders, dressed with lettuce and a layer of gooey, melted cheese sitting on a sesame topped bun; generous delicate salmon filets and so much more, including desserts, though I limit myself to one peanut butter cookie which, granted, was pretty oversized.
The sun is still high in the sky as I climb aboard the zodiac for my return trip to SeaDream II. Others head down the beach to Soggy Dollar for a few more Painkillers. But I know my limit.
I don my lifejacket and climb into the zodiac for the ride back to SeaDream II. She waits in the distance, a little slip of a thing in the cruise world. I look at her and realize the deception. There’s no outward suggestion that this unassuming little yacht holds what I consider the most extraordinary cruise experience around. With no exterior bells or whistles—not even balconies—she manages to intensify everything I love about a cruise, remove everything I don’t love, and then add extraordinary elements I would never have dreamed of. It seems, I realize, that the SeaDream experience was meticulously created to appeal to my exact and specific tastes.
But, judging, from the reaction of my shipmates on this sailing, it seems as if the SeaDream experience was meticulously created to appeal to their exact and specific tastes as well.
Photos, stories & diary — credit Judi Cuervo