BOB BONE'S TravelPieces

Sailing in a Dreamboat

© Text and photos by Robert W. Bone

Aboard SeaDream II, in the Caribbean—When is a cruise ship not a cruise ship? The answer: when it is a “megayacht.”

That’s the term loyalists apply to this small but snazzy ship. It’s one of a set of twins that make up not your average cruise line. This is the SeaDream Yacht Club, if you please. Each of these vessels boasts a modest maximum of only 50 staterooms. Ergo, those of us who might be listed as merely passengers elsewhere are automatically enrolled as club members at SeaDream. 

Seated in one of the ship’s two – count ’em – restaurants (one indoor; one outdoor), I mentioned to my wife that I thought I might miss the lectures, classes, and large choice of programs we have experienced on some of the grand leviathans sailing the world’s oceans.

“Not me,” Sara said. “I really like getting to know everybody!”

She was right. On our one-week voyage in March, we become closely acquainted with most of the 82 passengers aboard – what they did, where they lived, and something about the lives of their parents, children, and grandchildren. We also came to know many of the crew, who numbered more than the passengers, eventually promising them to write and, of course, exchange pictures. This was also a crew that seemed happy to serve, even though they are not supposed to be tipped at the end of the voyage. Most memorized our names from day one.

In the most important ways, our megayacht measured up in luxury amenities to its larger cousins, plus adding a few special touches of its own. The cabin included a shower with three nozzles, and on the first night at sea we received pajamas with our names embroidered on the breast.

The ship has a handsome library, stocked with popular best-sellers and DVD movies for the more sedentary guests. There is internet access in the library, which is a service also available for laptops in the individual staterooms. 

But the SeaDream II is an especially active ship for folks who want to be active. For those who go ashore on port calls, there is usually a new town to explore every day. The organized shore excursions mostly emphasize vigorous adventure. When the passengers are not riding ATVs on dirt roads and sand dunes, they’re sliding along zip lines, diving, snorkeling, or swimming off pristine deserted beaches. 

On days when you don’t leave the ship, you can check out the on-board water sports opportunities. When ocean conditions allow, the special marina down at the deck just above sea level is opened up to all members for aquatic fun, including riding water skis, jet skis, or the hilariously unstable banana boat. Falling off the banana seems to be the standard way of disembarking from it.

One day, we saw a grinning Captain Erik Anderssen, 58, hot-dogging around his ship astride a jet ski and generally having a good time along with the passengers. Some members of the crew also participated. That fellow we saw on a speedboat towing the water skiers turned out to be “Bobby,” who entertains at the piano bar or in the lounge during the evening.

Captain Anderssen, like many of his fellow cruise ship masters, is a good-natured Norwegian sailor. He has never commanded a large ship, and says he has no desire to do so. There was also a time he never intended to do anything but crew on freighters.

“I wouldn’t have anything to do with cruise ships. I was a Popeye the sailor man!” he laughed. He likes to tell the story that when he was first given a job on a cruise ship, in 1985, he was embarrassed because he couldn’t read the menu – a document that typically described foods in rather exalted terms.

Captain Erik Anderssen, master of SeaDream II, on the bridge.

“I knew what soup was, but I had never heard of a consommé,” he said. “I knew what pancakes were, but not crêpes.” Now he heads one of the most luxurious vessels afloat, whose meals are generally acknowledged to be of gourmet quality and the evening’s selected wines are included for no extra charge. Now the captain often dines with the passengers, entertaining his table with tales of his sea experiences.

Anderssen says he likes captaining the SeaDream II because he often runs into the same cruisers. SeaDream claims that 28 percent of its passengers… er, members… are repeaters.

Experienced cruisers also may have known Anderssen when he captained ships of the Seabourn Cruise line, a fleet of vessels that are somewhat larger than the two SeaDream craft. We discovered that we had traveled together on the Seabourn Spirit back in 1992, and agreed that we probably didn’t recognize each other because in the interim I had grown a beard and he had shaved one off.

Anderssen is proud of his small ship and has every confidence she can weather everything a larger one can. Pressed for an example, he recalled sailing through a hurricane off Nova Scotia in 1996. The ship was headed at full speed for Halifax. But then Halifax suddenly radioed that the port was closed. So there was nothing to do but to ride it out at sea.

During the worst of the wind and waves, throughout an evening and most of the early morning, no food was served – only soft drinks, he said. The pitching and rolling was so strong, that he spoke to the passengers every five minutes assuring them that the ship was doing fine, and giving them the latest information on the storm. Many had donned life jackets – not because they were ordered to do so, but just because they felt more secure for it. In any case, both ship and all on board came through the experience unscathed.

SeaDream megayachts, SeaDream I & SeaDream II sail seasonally both in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean/Aegean. Fares for one-week cruises on either of the two ships usually begin at around $3,000 and run up to around $7,000 per person, depending on dates and itineraries. More information, including detailed itineraries, is available from the company’s web site at www.seadreamyachtclub.com.

We had no such difficult experience on our own week-long Caribbean voyage, although normal winds and waves sometimes forced a change in where the ship could anchor. Partly for this reason our itinerary along the Yucatan peninsula is being changed next winter for a different one in the Caribbean, sailing mainly out of St. Thomas to other islands of the Lower Antilles. Anderssen explained that when the ship travels through the islands, instead of along a coastline, it is much easier to find a shoreline providing a comfortable anchorage.

There remains a certain amount of adventure in sailing on a smaller ship. Anderssen recalls that on another Caribbean voyage he joked during his introductory talk to the passengers that he just might call in at the island of St. Maarten, which was not on the itinerary. “Just to get a smile out of the passengers, I told them that I had a girlfriend there,” he said.

But as luck would have it, indeed the ship did need to stop at St. Maarten, but only because of some unusual sea conditions. Most passengers were happy with the unexpected stop. But later, when the captain read the end-of-cruise comment cards, he saw one from a passenger criticizing him for including the island “just so he could see his girl friend!”

Anderssen, who is a long-time married man, with two sons, and two grandchildren, said he loved that comment. 

“I had the card framed and now it’s up on my wall!” he said.

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Travel writer Robert W. Bone has been writing about cruise ships and cruising since 1982.

This travel piece appeared in several publications: Information

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