During spring break in 2005, I sailed on the Grand Princess from Galveston, a megaship at 109,000 tons, accommodating 2,600 passengers. In 2006, I decided to try the polar opposite, the SeaDream I of the SeaDream Yacht Club, which at 4,260 tons accommodates only 110 guests.
The SeaDream I and sister ship SeaDream II were launched in 1984 and 1985, respectively, as the Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II of Cunard. The ships set a new standard for luxury at that time. Later, both ships were operated by Seabourn for a short time.
In 2001, Atle Brynestad, the founder of Seabourn, and Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of the merged companies Cunard-Seabourn, founded SeaDream Yacht Club and purchased the two luxury yachts. In 2002, both ships underwent major refurbishments, and I have heard great things about them.
Sailing on a small ship has its pros and cons. Among the biggest advantages, small ships can call on beautiful and unspoiled ports and islands that lack the amenities to accommodate thousands of visitors at one time. Their guests are more likely to blend into the local scene than they are to overwhelm or change it. Small ships can sail from departure ports (like St. Thomas) that lack sufficient airline capacity to accommodate the thousands of passengers it takes to fill the largest ships, so you can begin your journey in the heart of the Caribbean instead of spending a day at sea just to get there. (I personally like days at sea as much as days in port so this is not an issue with me, but a lot of cruisers prefer one to the other.) With this cruise departing from St. Thomas, we'll be in a new port every day.
It's been my experience that it's easier to meet people on a small ship than on a large ship, partly because you keep bumping into the same people. It's definitely easier to get to know the Captain or key members of his staff, if that's important to you.
Regarding the SeaDream I, there are advantages beyond those that apply to all small ships. In addition to a spa, salon and fitness center, there is a retractable water sports marina where guests can enjoy kayaking, water skiing, tubing, boarding, wave running, snorkeling, sunfish sailing or simply a swim. For sunning or reading on deck, I'm looking forward to the Balinese DreamBeds, double sun beds raised above the yacht's railing for unobstructed views. There is also a private massage tent on deck -- something I should probably experience just for the education value. Is there no limit to the sacrifices I must make for the company?
On the SeaDream I, the dress code is "resort casual," even in the evenings, and there won't be any formal nights or Las Vegas-style shows. There is a Main Salon with dance floor and stage, a casino, a piano bar, and a library.
I mentioned pros and cons earlier, and I think the main disadvantages are these: higher prices and fewer specialized amenities, activities and services.
Small ships are simply not as efficient to operate as large ships, and the luxurious surroundings, personal attention, fine dining and onboard service offered by the SeaDream yachts costs a premium over what you would pay on a 1500+ passenger cruise ship, even a very nice one. Modern megaships are built to be floating amusement parks, for people of all ages. These yachts were not designed for families with young children, and do not offer kids' facilities, youth counselors or babysitting. There won't be nonstop activities happening throughout the ship every day, as there are on large ships. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Long, unhurried port calls with fine dining and relaxed, low-key evenings on board may be just what you're looking for in a vacation.
To read more about SeaDream, click here.
It seems like a long time since I was out of the office, and I can hardly wait to feel the sea again.
Vacations To Go
Yachting with SeaDream, Part 2: The Cruise
Yachting with SeaDream, Part 3: The Ports