The small luxury yachts excel at cuisine and service
After a sun-drenched day in posh St. Barts, my husband and I returned pier-side to tender back to SeaDream II. A SeaDream Yacht Club crewmember greeted us from behind a table temptingly filled with four kinds of chunky cookies, freshly baked onboard. A portly Seabourn passenger ambled up all excited, but looked crushed when the crewmember said that the treats were for SeaDream guests. The Seabourn gentleman was so crestfallen, I asked our crew if I could give one to the guy and, of course, got a yes. The passenger grinned appreciatively, gobbled up a chocolate cookie, and looked longingly at SeaDream II, bobbing in the sea by his sleeker newer Seabourn vessel.
Score one for the little ship that could.
SeaDream Yacht Club leaves no crumb unturned when it comes to cuisine. Even when away from our tiny 112-passenger ship, we felt nourished. Our 95 crewmembers were delighted to feed us or just watch us enjoying food – even the sailors touching up the deck nodded approvingly at our 5 p.m. Balinese chaise lounge French fry and cocktail fest.
Our yacht – one of two lookalike SeaDream ships – delivered personalized culinary service unlike any luxury cruise I’ve experienced. Dining was boutique six-star indie hotel, rather than fancy Four Seasons. Whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, ruled.
I sailed SeaDream II late last fall, as it caroused the Caribbean on a 10-day San Juan-to St. Thomas voyage. (Come May 2015, the vessel is repositioning to the Med until next autumn.) See what sets this upscale all-inclusive cruise line apart from peers when it comes to dining.
Dine. Outdoors. Always.
Even if it sprinkles, SeaDream has it covered. Literally. Most of the deck-side dining tables are protected from showers. And when the sun is out (which is most of the time), the bliss of finding a secluded table, with stunning ocean views to share with a companion, is a revelation.
The ship may be small, but table appointments are splashy. Tables are beautifully set with sparkling crystal, fine china and gleaming silver.
One unforgettable night we dined at a corner table for two, facing the sea, watching the stars burst out of an inky black sky. Lights twinkled on mysterious islets. We were in small ship waters (boats and yachts only) so no ocean liner could block our mesmerizing views. We sipped fine red wine from long-stemmed glasses. Nibbled fresh Caribbean fish. Never mind I was long-married; I suddenly wanted my husband to propose all over again.
I’ve loved wait-staff attention onboard Crystal Cruises and other six-star ships, but on a vessel this small, service is far more intimate. After a day or so, I fell into this fantasy that the yacht was ours. That was easy, for servers quickly memorized our dining routines.
At breakfast, we gravitated to tables serviced by Goran, a charming Croatian with boundless energy and a winning grin. He brought us copies of U.S. news briefs to read while retrieving fresh-squeezed vegetable juice of the day, skinny cappuccinos (with cherries on the side; Goran said they had to have garnishes and it was too early for cookies), and freshly sliced tropical fruit. He kept the cappuccinos coming as we visited the buffet for cereals, nuts, and irresistible muffins with the lightest crumb.
And so it went, for 10 days, for every breakfast. But no matter our waiter or mealtime, we rejoiced in a proper fuss over our orders, attention to our delighting in every course, and guidance when we were unsure of menu choices. With service this grand, servers almost made you feel as if what you were eating was secondary.
Food, Glorious Food
There was plenty of it, mostly very good. Breakfast meant ever-changing omelet selections (even an exotic Indian-spiced variation by our Indian-born head chef), pancakes and more, cooked to order. I’m not sure what dazzled brighter – the strong Caribbean sun setting the sea a-sparkle, or the granola-crusted French toast with apricot preserves. If you didn’t feel like budging from your chair, servers fetched any buffet item.
Delicious crab claws on the luncheon buffet.
Lunchtime provided a constantly changing lineup of arresting salads, all freshly tossed and perfectly dressed. Chilled seafood – like crab claws and shrimp – were knockout. Heartier dishes, such as bouillabaisse, burgers, or other hot entrees, were always options. Our chef often prepared excellent Indian specialties, such as aloo, crispy patties filled with vegetable and potato mash.
Each evening, cocktails were served poolside with an always different array of small bites. Fine cheeses and crackers, artisan charcuterie, hot savory pastries, and one night, the table was awash in caviar.
Dinnertime starter of puff pastry with asparagus and wild mushrooms
Come dinner, the European-inspired menu featured impressive starters such as lobster bisque splashed with good cognac; flaky-to-the-max puff pastry with creamy mushrooms and asparagus, drizzled with balsamic reduction; and marinated fresh octopus and squid salad.
Perfect prime rib.
Entrees equally impressed. Prime rib isn’t difficult to prepare, but it’s rare tucking into beef this juicy and tender. Whole Dover sole on a bed of fresh spinach was a standout. Two servers presented it with flair; one removed the skin and bones, the other held lemon wedges to squeeze fresh juice on the flaky fish. I also remember an all-Caribbean menu, with fresh mahi mahi in creamy sauce with peppers, as a highlight. Desserts were often elaborate, such as bittersweet melting chocolate cake, decorated with edible gold leaf.
Even evening turndown yielded nightly surprises. Mints in a teensy box, or giant homemade cookies decorated with chocolate squiggles. (Even after nights of dessert extravaganzas poolside, including cherries jubilee made to order.)
SeaDream is the only cruise line offering a raw foods menu throughout the day. Organic and vegan, dishes are heated to 118˚F or less to retain healthy micro-nutrients. I tasted a few, like lasagna with “noodles” made from coconut meat and spinach leaves, and they were surprisingly good. I’m not going to say I loved the raw dishes more than cooked ones, but if I were into eating this way, I’d be pleased.
Most cruise lines offer tea service but SeaDream Yacht Club takes the concept an impressive step further. Twelve new teas, custom-created by a master blender in Kent, United Kingdom, are only available onboard SeaDream yachts. The complimentary teas are available any time, anywhere, and include such exotic flavors as rhubarb ginger rose, and Captain’s Breakfast, a malty robust brew blended with three different black teas.
The Only Way to Wine
SeaDream takes its wine education voyages seriously. One of Sweden’s most internationally recognized wine writers developed an inventive program benefiting both beginners and veteran oenophiles. Guests do the expected – visit top-flight wineries, enjoy tastings, pairing dinners, and wine master classes – but there’s more. Beginning this spring, guests may take accredited wine courses, exams, and certifications approved by the British Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). WSET offers courses in four levels, and passengers can take the first two onboard the yacht. Even if your goal isn’t to become a sommelier, what an enjoyable way and setting in which to learn.
The cruise’s most anticipated event: champagne and caviar in the surf.
Once per Caribbean sail, SeaDream throws the much-lauded beach barbecue bash with caviar and champagne in the surf. The crew tendered back and forth from the ship for hours, and we inhaled enticing barbecue aromas while cavorting in the turquoise sea. Long tables were set in a sheltered area and big buffet tables grew heavy with hotdogs, hamburgers, ribs, corn, potatoes, and more.
As the sun relinquished its mid-afternoon grip, we awaited the piece de resistance: Key crewmembers had waded into chest-high water, balancing bottles of champagnes and big tubs of caviar on a bobbing surfboard. We forgot how stuffed we felt from the barbecue and splashed into the water, unabashedly attacking the SeaDream staff and the surfboard like greedy vultures.
I still remember how warm the sun felt on my reddening shoulders, how gentle the waves frothed at my waist, and how the white sand bunched between my toes. I remember champagne bubbles tickling my sunburned nose, and how caviar pearls burst against my salt-water-flecked tongue. What’s better than such an exquisite memory, that I can conjure anytime at will? Not much, my friends, not much. (SeaDream.com)