Dreaming of 'Ultra-Yachts'

Cruise Guide - Consumer Affairs Correspondent

The first thing Larry Pimentel, CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club, will tell you is: "We are a yachting company, not a small ship cruise line." The second thing is how exciting and different the SeaDream product is in an industry awash in a "sea of sameness." I heartily concur. SeaDream Yacht Club is the brainchild of Pimentel--formerly CEO of Seabourn--and Chairman/Founder Atle Brynestad. Several months ago, they purchased the Sea Goddess yachts from Cunard Line and set out to create a product that sets a new standard in their pursuit of perfection.

What makes SeaDream different?

Unlike many of the other ultra-luxury, five-star products, SeaDream doesn't operate "mega-yachts." Rather, they should be referred to as "ultra yachts," Pimentel said. Yachting is different from cruising, he adds: It has an open, unstructured ambience with no lines, no crowds and no stress. Guests are free to do what they want, when they want.

The yachts will also sail on itineraries with flexible schedules. The only set criteria will be the ports visited and times for embarkation and disembarkation. Beyond that, the Captain and passengers will determine the schedule of the ship. If the passengers are enjoying themselves in a particular port, the yacht can remain there for a while. If a particular nearby port or island presents an appealing diversion, the vessel is free to head off for a surprise day there. In the Caribbean, the yachts will meet up at a private island for a beach party, barbecue and day of watersports. Of course, no day at the beach would be complete without the waiters and staff serving you champagne and caviar in the surf!

Speaking of dining and imbibing, SeaDream is an all-inclusive product with no extra charges for anything on board. If you're hungry at 2 a.m., you're free to "raid the pantry" and fix yourself a sandwich or snack, just as you would at home. Or if you prefer, one of the staff will prepare something for you and serve it in your stateroom.

No ultra-luxury yachting experience would be complete without fine dining. As in their previous incarnation, the SeaDream yachts retain an open-seating policy in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can choose when and with whom to dine. While SeaDream executives hesitate to use the phrase "gourmet dining," they insist the service and cuisine are bound to please the simplest to the most refined tastes.

A unique aspect of SeaDream is the fact that the majority of its staff and crew has been with the company for a long time, giving them a keen knowledge of the ports visited. Their insights are invaluable when it comes to shore excursions. Unlike other cruise lines, SeaDream plans its excursions with input from the officers and crew; indeed, many of the trips are led by personnel from the ship. In the Caribbean, you might choose to join the Captain for a day of snorkeling in his favorite cove. Or in Portofino, you might go with the Executive Chef for a tour of the countryside, perhaps visiting his favorite olive pressing factory, winery and pastry shop.

From Sea Goddess to SeaDream

As part of this "relentless pursuit of casual perfection," Pimentel said, the yachts are undergoing extensive renovations. With a focus on outdoor living and recreation, the ships' upper decks are being enlarged and extended. At the top of the ships on Deck 6, you'll find an expansive area of open space complete with a "Top of the Yacht Bar," 48 elevated double sunbeds and hammocks with high-powered binoculars. At the forward end is a state-of-the-art golf simulator with a large, flat screen that can also be used for outdoor entertainment, to screen sporting events or evening movies under the stars.

One deck below, Deck 5 will also be extended to accommodate a new open-air cafe with a skylight canopy. This area will be used for casual breakfasts and lunches, and passengers may also choose this as a casual dining option for dinner. The ever-popular watersports platform and marina has been expanded to include kayaks, hobie cats, water skiing, tubing, water boarding, snorkeling, sunfish and wave runners. SeaDream has also created a new Asian-inspired spa and fitness club that it will operate itself, instead of using an outside concessionaire.

All of the vessels' interior fittings and furnishings will be replaced, giving them a traditional, clubby, yacht-like atmosphere. All 55 staterooms and suites have been refurbished from floor to ceiling with new carpeting, draperies and furniture, and will be equipped with an in-stateroom bar, TV, CD and DVD player, Internet access, and a personal jukebox with more than 200 CDs to choose from.

Bathrooms will feature "full body massage" showerheads. Another unique SeaDream feature is the range of personal amenities in the staterooms and suites such as personalized stationery, a personal e-mail address and their signature "Sweet Dreams" program, which features books and other suitable gifts along with a night-time delicacy when it is time to turn in.

Where they sail

Sea Dream I is currently sailing seven-night Caribbean itineraries out of Barbados and St Thomas. The northbound and southbound itineraries call at Bequia, Castries, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Nevis and Jost van Dyke, while the roundtrip St Thomas itinerary calls at Cruz Bay, Christiansted, Gustavia, Marigot Bay, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke. The north or southbound itineraries can be combined with a roundtrip St. Thomas sailing to create a 14-night yachting vacation.

She will be completely refurbished this spring, and will spend the summer sailing seven-night itineraries in the Mediterranean out of Barcelona, Malaga, Nice and Rome, returning to Miami in November for a series of seven-night sailings to the yacht harbors of the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and Key West.

Sea Dream II is currently in Germany undergoing her complete renovation, and will debut on Caribbean sailings from St. Thomas. In April she will cross the Atlantic to join her fleetmate on seven-night Mediterranean itineraries from Barcelona, Malaga, Monte Carlo and Nice, returning to St. Thomas for Caribbean sailings in October.

Isn't yachting expensive?

SeaDream's pricing is no more expensive than other ultra-luxury cruise offerings. And unlike the others, its pricing structure is simple. There is one price per stateroom category per itinerary. Caribbean sailings range from $2,200 per person for a standard stateroom to $4,812 per person for an Owner's Suite. Mediterranean sailings range from $3,500 per person for a standard stateroom up to $10,718 per person for an Owner's Suite.

Because these yachts are ideally suited for private events like corporate functions or family reunions, the yachts may be chartered at $49,900 per day in the Caribbean or $64,900 per day in the Med. If you would like to charter one of the SeaDream yachts, you had better act quickly--they are booking fast.-- In fact, Pimentel said he had finalized a charter minutes before I met with him. The SeaDream I will be delivered right to the party's home on Fisher Island in Miami. How's that for service and convenience?

SeaDream Yacht Club will be sold through a core network of 250 upscale travel agencies and yacht brokers, although reservations can be made through any travel agent.

For reservations and additional information, contact SeaDream at (800) 707-4911.

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