SeaDream cruise review: living the dream
Lying under the stars, I can feel the Mediterranean breeze against my cheek. We are on a SeaDream cruise from Nice to Rome and tonight we are sleeping outdoors on the top deck of the ship. Adorned in our SeaDream branded pyjamas and cosy under luxury sheets, we watch as the illuminated towns of the French coast slide out of view. In the distance Cannes Film Festival gets under way with a fireworks display that feels like it is just for us. In fact, our bed at the bow of the ship is so private, that we really could be on our own super yacht.
Of course, this is the raison d'etre of the award-wining luxury brand, which doesn't think of itself as an ordinary cruise line. “This is yachting not cruising” is SeaDream's motto, and while that is a clever marketing tool, there really is a difference. There is no tacky entertainment, no loud tannoy announcements to wake you up from a mid-afternoon slumber. And all-inclusive really does mean all-inclusive, gratuities, drinks and activities are all part of the deal. With just 112 passengers on board, the ship has almost a one-to-one staff to traveller ratio, which is key to its success. You really feel like part of a family by the end of the week.
On our first morning we are treated to a walk through St Tropez with Chef Alastair Solomon. After a short tour of the fish market we make our way through the butter-coloured lanes to a small square and stop at La Cave du Golfe, a boutique specialising in the regions best rosés . The mixture of dry and sweet wines - including a limited edition one from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's Miraval estate - are expertly paired with oysters, escargot, and a regional speciality of anchovy and caramelized onions called pissaladiere. Chef Alastair explains to me that he likes to match the menu on-board to each day's stop, and that he will change it at the last minute if something at the local market excites him.
High quality and innovative cuisine is something that the SeaDream cruise line is famous for. Having won awards for both its food and the friendlines of its servers, the experience in the dining salon doesn't disappoint. Gone are the mass-produced portions of chicken and sauce, what is presented on board here is the high point of seaborne gastronomy.
The menu changes every day and ranges from Asian fusion to innovative French fine dining. A highlight was the chef's degustation menu, featuring six-courses of dishes such as fois gras and gold-leaf topped chocolate fondant, paired with wine. The ingredients are fresh and exquisitely prepared.
There is no formality with the meals, the dress code is cruise casual, and they are taken outside on the Topside Restaurant's three decks as often as possible. One night we had a view of the Tuscan hills, another we gazed upon the famous skyline of Monaco.
While there was an excellent selection at breakfast, including a daily special, lunch was always a treat. From goulash, to enchiladas, to clam chowder, there was always something hearty and enticing, while a salad bar was there as a nod to keeping your waistline trim.
Despite the ship's small stature it never feels overcrowded or under-equipped. The 35-year-old SeaDream I and its sister ship, the SeaDream II, were entirely refurbished when taken over by the Norwegian company in 2001, and are known for their elegant informality and a high attention to detail. The two restaurants are capable of seating every passenger at once, eliminating the need for set meal times and meaning guests can dine whenever they want to.
At the back of the ship, and when weather permits, there is a marina with kayaks, jet skis, and other water toys available for anyone to use at no additional charge. A golf simulator on the top deck allows guests to keep on top of their swing, and ten bicycles are free to use on-shore for anyone who wants them. And on deck four is the only Thai-certified spa at sea, as well as the fitness centre and sauna.
When not sleeping under the stars, our stateroom provided the perfect home from home. As well as a large picture window and king-size bed, everything was catered for, from an extensive room service menu available 24-hours a day, to an all-inclusive mini bar that was refreshed each morning. The marble bathroom features divine Bvlgari amenities and a shower that is the largest I have seen on a cruise ship.
What the intimate size does ensure is that you get to visit some of Europe and the Caribbean's lesser-known and harder-to-reach ports. On most of our stops we anchored off-shore and approached by a tiny tender boat. This allowed us to enter ports such as the tiny Porto Ercole in Tuscany and Corsica's dramatic Bonifacio. But waking up to the snow-dusted mountains of Calvi was my personal favourite. All steep fortifications and empty, cobbled lanes, the tiny fishing village on the north west coast of Corsica feels hidden from the outside world. Harbour-side bars are the perfect spot to view the bay and to sample local delicacies.
With such small numbers on-board it is almost inevitable that you will get to know the other passengers, especially after a few late-night sing-a-longs in the Piano Bar. They are mostly British and American, but featuring every age from a young couple on their honeymoon to reitrees embarking on their fifth SeaDream voyage.
It is clear why many guests return so often. In fact, I found most of the passengers had been on at least one journey before, with many saying they will never travel on another cruise line again.
This is in large part because of the standard of service. It is exceptionally high, and the crew on board genuinely seem to enjoy themselves. Within 24-hours of boarding every single member of staff knew our names and after asking for an umbrella just once by the pool, attendant Eugene anticipated what I wanted each time I went for a dip.
Our drinks orders were remembered, servers knew the way we liked our steak cooked and the drinks we used most in the mini-bar were even stocked up without us asking. Some of my fellow guests enjoyed the experience so much that on the final night they wrote a song and performed it before dinner having dedicated it to the crew.
And this is the lingering memory of my time on-board. That feeling of intimacy, like you are on a private yacht with a group of new friends. It might seem like there shouldn't be much difference between yachting and cruising, but after a week on SeaDream, it's clear that they're oceans apart.
Departing on the 29th August 2020 from Valetta to Civitavecchia (Rome), this 7-day all-inclusive SeaDream voyage starts from £3,789 per person, excluding flights, transfers and land adventures. For further information or bookings please visit www.seadream.com or call 0800 783 1373