Small is Beautiful - Luxury Travel Magazine

Small is Beautiful

By: John Swords, Issue 25 – Summer 2006


When it comes to cruising, size does matter. For proof, look no further than SeaDream. Not a floating metropolis, not even a floating town, it is more a hamlet for ocean nomads. This is cruising as perhaps it used to be – can anyone remember? – seductively intimate, splendidly unhurried, serenely comfortable. Cruising for grown-ups. Taking only 110 passengers, SeaDream is tiny alongside the 5000-passenger cities now plying the world’s cruising waters. The virtually identical SeaDream I and SeaDream II are 4620-tonne villages – but one-horse boats they ain’t. Only a third of SeaDream’s 90-odd crew are needed to drive the boat, leaving the rest devoted to the entirely noble cause of the care and feeding of passengers. With a pamper ratio like that, there is room for serious levels of unobtrusive hovering and whim-humouring.

SeaDream marketing insists this is not a ship on a cruise, but a yacht on a voyage. Semantics aside, the experience is certainly unique. The lack of size makes a difference on many levels. SeaDream can avoid the larger ports, docking at relative backwaters on its Mediterranean and Caribbean beats. Mostly she’s docked; but if she’s at anchor, getting ashore is easy. There are no assembled regiments, platoons and companies of shore-bound passengers – you simply ask to be taken ashore and it is done. Dinner sees the entire passenger list served in what is no more than a large restaurant. Weather permitting, breakfast and dinner are taken on deck. The lounge comfortably accommodates everyone for captain’s cocktails each evening. By the end of a week, the captain will have had time for a chat with all the guests. This is intimate sailing. By breakfast on day two, the decks are full of familiar smiles. Conversations come easily, but if you want to keep to yourself, there are plenty of nooks for an uninterrupted read or a solitary laze in the sun.

The passenger mix, particularly in the Med, ranges from young professionals to the actively retired. On a recent voyage, my companions included Americans and Canadians in rough balance with British and continental Europeans. Australians are also represented on most Med sailings – on mine there was a young Queensland actor about to make her first movie, travelling with her former Melbourne computer executive partner, as well as a Brisbane couple, in the process of handing over their business to their children so they could indulge their passion for travel and racing horses.

SeaDream accommodates most of the activities to be found on larger vessels. Among them a gym (I never saw it overstretched, let alone cramped), a library, a Thai spa and a 50- course simulator for the golf-deprived. And of course there are play-things – on one beautifully still day, the captain announced a mid-ocean stop, letting SeaDream drift in a sparkling, boundless sea while we played with the ship’s water toys or swam with more than 3000m of Mediterranean beneath our splashing bodies. For horizontal bliss, there is a six-strong team of masseuses, specialising in muscular Thai arts, although I can only vouch for an hour’s gentler Asian blend massage. The memory of the experience outweighs the jibes from friends about soft options.
Each day of indolence at sea or indulgence ashore ends with Champagne (my choice – the options are almost limitless) at evening cocktails before dinner. And dinners are a definite highlight. SeaDream’s size probably has a lot to do with the high quality of the eating. This is a floating restaurant which simply soars above any hint of mere catering, a difficulty sometimes experienced at sea. The menu choices are conservative but impeccable, with tempting vegetarian and ‘Asian wellness’ alternatives. The wines – choices change daily – are a good mix of French and New World, including many Australian labels. The service is exceptional, with the pamper ratio coming fully into its own.

The Mediterranean ports of call are equally mouthwatering, often spectacular towns clamped like barnacles to rocks soaring from the sea. A typical seven-day voyage includes alternate days at sea and ashore. On mine, the originally planned landfalls were changed twice, a fairly common practice on SeaDream. On the first occasion the captain learned there would be several cruise ships in our intended port, so we went elsewhere because it was felt the crowds would spoil our on-shore experience. On the second occasion our destination was changed to dodge poor weather. No matter. Within hours, new land-based tours had been organised and replacement information sheets about our new destination slipped under stateroom doors.

After dinner, there are drinks at the piano bar (complete, I’m pleased to report, with pianist) or in the small casino; or perhaps a nightcap under the sparkling heavens on the top deck. Few survive for long. After all, how tiresome it would be to be too tired to enjoy tomorrow’s pamper ratio.

SeaDream Yacht Club,
Gulf Air,

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