The Virtuoso Traveler READER’S REPORT

A husband and wife celebrate their big 5-0 birthdays at sea.

By Randall Mang

“May I clean your sunglasses for you?”

It was a simple enough question, but at the same time the offer was so unexpected that my wife, Louise, and I couldn’t help but share a smile as we conferred telepathically with one another: For real?

“Why not?” we responded simultaneously, passing our sunglasses to the crewman standing graciously before us holding a small bottle of anti-reflective lens cleaner and a microfiber cloth. That was just the latest among a growing list of “SeaDream moments” – pleasantly surprising highlights from our seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard the 344-foot luxury mega-yacht SeaDream I, a voyage that turned out to be as much about simply being on the ship as it was about going places.

Since 2000, Louise and I have cruised more than a dozen times aboard larger ships,  from family holidays with our six kids to romantic getaways to the Mediterranean, North Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and beyond. But this holiday – a dual celebration of our 50th birthdays – was a particularly big deal for us.

After all, turning 50 is an opportunity to reflect on your triumphs and travails, acknowledge the inevitable physical changes that come with age, and yet also appreciate that,  in life’s grand scheme, there is plenty ahead yet to discover.

We splashed out on the SeaDream voyage on the recommendation of our Virtuoso travel advisor, David Lowy, in Vancouver, Canada. David knows what we like. We’re down-to-earth people who’ve had a fair look around the world. We appreciate value and quality, and have been fortunate to enjoy our share of haute cuisine, fine wines, and the understated elegance of hospitality brands like St. Regis and Four Seasons. 

Years earlier David had made a good impression by sending us on a Mediterranean cruise with Oceania;

its country club-casual style, robust itinerary, and emphasis on fine dining were right up our alley. On another occasion when we planned a self-guided European tour, David not only landed us an unbeatable airfare to Europe, he also managed to source flights that matched our itinerary perfectly. As always, he looked after your interests.

This time around, we told David we wanted a January sun holiday, ideally in someplace we hadn’t been before. David cautioned us to avoid spending too much of our limited holiday time flying to

new destinations. Instead, he pointed us to SeaDream Yacht Club, referencing the line’s slogan: “This isn’t cruising; it’s yachting,” he said. “The ships are small – only about a hundred passengers – and the service is like Four Seasons, except it’s all-inclusive. You’ll love it.”

SeaDream’s winter Caribbean schedule worked with ours, and while the cruise from Saint Thomas to Puerto Rico through the Virgin Islands aboard the blue-hulled SeaDream I didn’t travel a great distance, it elegantly ushered us into the world of yachting.

Landmark occasion or not, here are five reasons to consider a SeaDream voyage.


1 WARM WELCOME

SeaDream’s two 112-passenger mega-yachts may be tiny compared to enormous cruise ships, but you won’t suffer from a lack of elbow room. We reveled in our privacy as much as we enjoyed mingling with fellow passengers – a dynamic international mix ranging in age from about 40 to 70-plus. Among them were active and retired entrepreneurs and executives, as well as philanthropists and even a senior Vogue magazine editor and her fine-artist husband.

Conversations were always engaging. While SeaDream welcomes guests of all ages, it is clearly attuned to adults. Warmly addressing guests by name, SeaDream’s omnipresent officers and crew set a friendly, upscale tone. Many guests, we learned, had seven to ten SeaDream voyages under their belts, contributing to the ship’s homey feel. As one of our fellow passengers, a seventy something Texan, put it:

“With SeaDream, your fellow passengers are like neighbors.” He should know – he was on his 97th SeaDream voyage.


2 SMALL SHIP, BIG DIFFERENCE

At Saint John’s Cruz Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we anchored next to a billionaire’s super-yacht. Much like on our subsequent port calls, Louise and I went ashore for a look around but were happy to return

to SeaDream’s comforts. As pleasure boaters, being nestled just offshore among other yachts was itself a luxury – and a far cry from any cruise-ship experience we’d had before. In Cruz Bay, we lazed away the afternoon on a top-deck queen size chaise lounge, admiring the parade of sailboats and motor cruisers passing by. Toasting the sunset from our perch, we noticed the silhouette of a large cruise ship far offshore, the distance between it and us far more than physical.


3 SECLUDED PORTS

With a new port each day, our itinerary promised a thorough tour of the archipelago. Even when rough seas caused the port authority to close Saint Bart’s Gustavia harbor – a much anticipated highlight on the itinerary – our ship’s captain didn’t disappoint. We’d been on cruise ships facing similar circumstances and known them to steam ahead to the next scheduled port of call. Not this time.

Sharing his plan in person, the captain told us he would navigate SeaDream to a sheltered bay and stay there through dinner, keeping everyone aboard comfortable. Then we would sail to a new port where calm waters prevailed: Marigot, Saint-Martin, a waterfront town on the quiet French side of the island. It was a splendid option.

The next day in Marigot,  Louise and I lunched at the well-reputed Le Tropicana restaurant situated in Marina Port La Royale. The French speaking server delighted us as we dined under the restaurant’s brilliant-orange awning, sipping a crisp French rosé and savoring a light meal of trilogie de saumon – marinated, smoked, and sautéed salmon served on a bed of greens. Were we in the Caribbean or the

Med? It was hard to tell.


4 ALL-ACCESS

Complimentary mountain bikes, snorkel gear, and watercraft – WaveRunners,  personal sailboats, paddleboards, kayaks, and more – are among the amenities free for guests’ use whenever the ship is at anchor. On Nevis, we grabbed a couple of bikes and cycled through the rural countryside, taking in the Caribbean Sea views below.

Along the way, we paused to admire the island’s charming homes and brilliant gardens of orange bougainvillea, pink and purple giant spider lilies, and the unmistakable yellow-andred scalloped blooms of the poinciana, the national flower.

On Virgin Gorda, SeaDream’s club director rallied a handful of guests to join him for a walk to points overlooking the island’s rugged and cactus-laden eastern coast.  Back aboard the ship, complimentary beverages, including well-stocked bars filled with imported beers, premium liquor, and free-flowing Champagne, made things festive and carefree. Throughout the day,  the crew presented us with niceties such as refreshing mint-infused face cloths, popsicles, fruit kebabs, and other treats, adding to the indulgent ambience.


5 A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION

Surprising us by decking out our stateroom in balloons, ribbons, and handwritten cards, the crew helped make our 50th birthday celebration extra special. After a chef prepared feast, we joined other guests at the Top of the Yacht Bar for some late-night starlit dancing – it was spectacularly fun.

Two days later, SeaDream’s signature grand finale Champagne and Caviar Splash on the British Virgin Islands’ Jost van Dyke was as decadent as it sounds. Passengers were tendered ashore in sleek Zodiac watercraft, landing on Jost’s white-sand White Bay beach for a gourmet barbecue lunch.

Standing waist deep in the crystal-clear water, the chef and his team kicked off the party by dishing up caviar and bubbly from atop a surfboard.

Later, groups sauntered down the beach to the Soggy Dollar – a bucket-list bar among yachters – for its signature Painkiller, a heady rum drink that has famously lived up to its name since the 1970s. Toes in the sand, Louise and I reveled in this extraordinarily satisfying holiday and plotted a future SeaDream voyage – perhaps next time in the Black Sea?


WHY WORK WITH A VIRTUOSO TRAVEL ADVISOR?

As Vancouver, Canada-based Virtuoso travel advisor David Lowy says, “We advocate for the consumer, not the supplier.” Here are some of the ways David has lived up to his word.

1. Good advice from someone who knows you. David was confident that SeaDream would appeal to our relaxed style and sense of adventure, as well as to our appreciation for good company and excellent service. He was bang on.

2. Added value. David pointed out that a Deck 2 stateroom, with two portholes, had the same suite configuration as a Deck 3 category (but with one window), saving us $1,000. David also included a $200 shipboard credit. Those savings helped us enjoy the ship’s spa and boutique, as well as other holiday treats.

3. Worry-free relaxation. Knowing that David and his team were there to support us in the event of unexpected challenges brought additional peace of mind. He also made sure SeaDream helped us celebrate our birthdays in style.


Click here to read the July 2014 edition of Virtuoso Life magazine.