AN UNCOMMON CROSSING
An Uncommon Crossing - Luxury Travel Magazine
An Uncommon Crossing
|By: Timothy Morrell, Issue 45 – Summer 2011|
|WHEN OCEAN LINERS RELOCATE TO BEGIN A NEW CRUISING SEASON, THERE ARE BARGAINS TO BE HAD. WHEN THE LINER IS ONE OF THE SEADREAM LUXURY YACHTS, AS TIMOTHY MORRELL DISCOVERED, THE VOYAGE IS ALSO THE MOST STYLISH KIND OF FUN.|
|Pole dancing?” The New York grande dame was intrigued but slightly bemused as she chatted with the Copenhagen nightclub owner about his business. “And is Polish folk music popular in Denmark?”|
Twelve of us were dining in a private party on deck under the stars in the middle of the Atlantic. Our host for the evening, in a finely tailored suit, took a keen interest in the cowboy shirts worn by two of his Texan guests, especially the rhinestones. Several other conversations around the table were also enlivened by differences in cultural backgrounds. All part of the joy of travel.
It would be an understatement to say that my fellow passengers on
SeaDream I were a well-travelled lot. One of them had been to the moon. The majority travel frequently with the SeaDream Yacht Club, and the use of the term Club in the company’s name is more than a branding gimmick. The onboard ambience is exactly like a club, but one where newcomers are immediately made to feel thoroughly welcome by everyone. When I boarded the yacht in Malaga I walked straight into a relaxed and genial party that, as far as I can recall, continued more or less non-stop until I disembarked in Puerto Rico.
The standard trans-Atlantic sailing is between New York and Southampton, but there is a much more leisurely alternative to this six-day sprint. After the northern summer, when SeaDream takes pampered individuals on voyages around the Mediterranean and the Baltic, the vessels relocate to the other side of the Atlantic and do the same thing in the Caribbean for the winter. Not everyone can spare the time it takes to make this crossing, and many people prefer an itinerary packed with ports. Consequently the cost of a SeaDream trans-Atlantic relocation is surprisingly low. In fact for twelve days of uninterrupted luxury it’s ridiculously cheap. The term yacht is used as it was understood by Aristotle Onassis. Don’t expect to see any sails or rigging. SeaDream operates two identical small ships, each carrying 95 crew for about the same number of guests. The crews are drawn from five continents, and the passengers are mainly American and European (principally British). The predominance of Filipino service staff combined with the unusually high proportion of Australians on the passenger list may contribute to the distinctive informality.
The ships (sorry, yachts) operated by SeaDream are consistently voted the world’s favourite small, ultra-luxurious address at sea, but it’s an old money kind of luxury that isn’t trying to impress anyone. The dress code for all occasions is what in the U.S. is described as “country club”. Men are never required to wear jackets or ties if they don’t want to. The atmosphere is rich, but totally unstuffy. Staff members are like friendly, endlessly helpful, family retainers. They all have distinctive and engaging personalities. Everything is done to encourage the sense of being on a private yacht, and it’s all included in the fare.
Accommodation is all ocean-view suites, which are simple, small and bright. There are a couple of grander ensembles offering considerably more space (and the only bath tubs on board), but the ship is really quite democratic in its general atmosphere of privileged comfort. No one knows if the people they’re talking to could afford to buy the company, or if they’ve been saving for years to take the trip. Nor does anyone care. People who consume champagne and caviar in their swimsuits (as one does) don’t judge others.
The quality of food on the SeaDream varies from excellent to superlative. Entering the subdued elegance of the dining room gives an immediate sense that cuisine on board is a serious business. It also encompasses a wide variety of tastes. I was surprised to find that a rosy, translucent film of tuna carpaccio under a delicately piped green lattice of wasabe mayonnaise was offered on the same menu as a heartily delicious surf’n’turf steak and lobster combo. The chefs are alert to current culinary fashion, but have the confidence not to feel constrained by it.
Regardless of the relaxed dress code, dinner is an event. Main courses arrive at the table concealed under silver domes, which are all removed simultaneously by a circle of waiters, who utter “voilà” in unison. This moment is intensely theatrical, and fun. From time to time during a meal, rounds of spontaneous applause can be heard as diners respond with delight to another splendid presentation. Menus are quite extensive, yet different every night. The head chef explains that after a couple of days he’s learned enough about the passengers’ likes and dislikes to devise menus accordingly. The balmy October weather in the equatorial zone of the Atlantic is ideal for outdoor dining, and candlelit private dinners can be arranged on a sheltered mezzanine deck toward the stern of the ship. Breakfast and lunch were always served at small tables on deck during our crossing. The passengers included several honeymoon couples, who generally preferred the intimate alcoves for two, set against the ship’s rail.
Leave the kids at home. There isn’t much to do on board, but that’s the point. Organised activities are minimal, while the more indulgent pleasures can be remarkably time-consuming. The main salon, which resembles a massive, dark, heavily upholstered conversation pit, doubles as the auditorium where celebrity passengers give lectures. There is an impressive looking library, with wing chairs, wood panelling, glass fronted bookshelves and a central round table bearing a bowl of fresh lilies with a wide circle of international magazines arranged around it. Two computers provide internet access. The ship is well stocked with board games and DVDs, but I never found time to investigate them, and I never got around to turning on the television set concealed in a cabinet in my cabin.
Because of excellent design, plus stabilisers, SeaDream ships travel as smoothly as vessels twice their size. This paramount virtue made it possible to overlook a couple of idiosyncrasies. The plumbing is a bit dodgy, and occasionally emitted a faint whiff of sewage during our trip. Arrival at our destination was delayed six hours by the engines becoming temperamental. These minor problems, however, were dealt with immediately and efficiently. The standard of ongoing daily maintenance is in fact conspicuously high. SeaDream yachts are likely to vary speed and course according to the weather. If necessary the captain will delay sailing until a heavy sea has calmed down, then make a run for it. Or on glassy flat waters he may stop the ship and allow passengers a mid-ocean swim, although this is unusual. The marina at the stern is normally only lowered for action when the ship has moored in a sheltered bay, where the little fleet of jet skis and water toys can be launched safely.
Ports of call are few and far between in the mid-Atlantic, but SeaDream often stops briefly at Funchal on the island of Madeira. We spent a few hours at this loyal outpost of Portugal. It’s like a lush botanical garden, where extraordinarily varied plant species from all over the world thrive together. Oaks and bananas grow side by side.
The traditional tourist treat here is a helter skelter toboggan ride that skids down the steep streets of the town. By the time you reach the bottom an enterprising photographer will have printed a glossy photograph of you commencing the descent, in what resembles a big wicker laundry basket fitted with seats. That was the token gesture of intrepid adventurousness on our ocean crossing.
On board there is an open bar (four actually) and almost constant serving of canapés with cocktails and snacks between meals. Fortunately damage control is available in the spa and smartly equipped gym, where walking machines face a glass wall overlooking the sea ahead. You can get your Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet moment with nothing ruffling your hair except the cool breeze from the strategically placed air conditioning vent.
At the end of all this, separation anxiety is removed by the prospect of arriving at San Juan in Puerto Rico, one of the most charming ports in the world. I stayed at the Hotel El Convento, a wonderfully restored 17th century structure that rises above the beautiful gelati coloured townhouses and cobbled streets of the old quarter. It’s a destination in its own right.
SeaDream I undertakes two trans-Atlantic voyages each year in April and October and SeaDream II undertakes three in November, April and October. The voyages are entirely allinclusive and start at A$2,499 per person, best fare.
To book a SeaDream voyage call 1800 217 902 toll free to Miami or email firstname.lastname@example.org