Yachting on the SeaDream I or SeaDream II (sister ships) can best be described as “living one’s dreams“. From the day we set sail on our week long SeaDream I Odyssey, having embarked in Piraeus (Athens’s port) to the day we docked in Civitavecchio (outside of Rome), each day and evening, was overflowing with personal hospitality, outstanding attentive service, exceptional cuisine, pampering spa treatments, and the company of an eclectic mix of passengers from all over the world. The SeaDream is intimate; the dress code is “yacht casual”, and even though my journey wasn’t a dream, I never wanted to wake up and have it end.
Sea Dream’s personable Activities Director greets us as we board, and remains available throughout the cruise to organize daily ship board activities like yoga, golf driving and bridge... jet and water skiing off the water platform. The SeaDream also offers passengers exclusive, fascinating and informative port excursions; we sign up for tours to Delphi and Pompeii, deciding to explore other ports of call on our own.
My mini suite provides ample space to hang and store our extensive wardrobes; suitcases go under the beds. Shortly after we sail, Maitre d’ Hotel Andre Cornelius confirms our request to dine al fresco; he will be waiting to greet and serve us on deck 4 aft. At 8:30 we make our way topside; we are seated overlooking the pool. In the distance lightening illuminates the sky and the black endless span of ocean. Jan, the ship’s sommelier, keeps our glasses filled with crisp French chardonnay as we savor our first meal at sea. The fresh sea breezes, excellent food and wine, and the anticipation of a week on board this luxurious ship, sends me to bed counting my blessings.
Breakfast is casual and fun as we begin to meet other passengers. We help ourselves to the buffet of ripe sweet fruits, cereals; smoked meats and fish; then order the chef’s omelet of the day. Everyone is looking forward to our first port of call, the Greek island of Hydra, but the weather alters the captain’s decision; we head for Porous instead. The white washed houses of this small village are silhouetted against the mountain as we enter the harbor; small sail boats bob in the water; a launch transports us to a dock. We walk into town; stopping to explore a local cemetery; make friends with some shop owners; then devour a freshly caught fish at an outdoor café. Back on board, we join a table of new acquaintances, sharing a great evening of exceptional cuisine and laid back camaraderie.
Crossing the Corinth Canal is breathtaking; a barge pulls us through the locks; we gather at the railing; our cameras click away to capture the beauty of this monumental engineering feat. Nero began to excavate the canal in 66BC; the task was abandoned after his death, then in 1881 a French team resumed work. In ancient times, Corinth was one of the most important merchant cities and ports in the Greek Empire. Today, its waterfront is bustling with cafes and restaurants.
We dock in Itea; our knowledgeable English speaking guide is waiting. The road to the summit of Mount Parnassos is narrow; the landscape, blanketed with olive groves, is magnificent. We travel to the ancient ruins of Delphi, one of the most impressive sites in Greece, view excavated treasures in the Delphi Museum then climb the rocky slopes to explore the ruins. An aura of mystery blends with the fauna as we traverse the Sacred Way, pass the Sanctuary where Pythia, the celebrated Oracle dwelt (here the Oracle of Apollo issued the most important decisions in the ancient world); then rest in front of the Castalia Springs, where Pilgrims had to wash before they were allowed to consult the Oracle.
At the end of this hectic exhilarating day, I retreat to the ship’s spa for a little pampering. The SeaDream Spa, serviced by graceful, gracious and well trained Thai therapists offers an impressive menu of traditional Asian rituals and treatments in one of four treatments rooms; massages are also available under a canopy on the deck. Prices are more than reasonable My Javanese Lulur Ritual which included: an exfoliating yogurt, lemon and herb scrub, a nourishing moisturizing papaya body wrap and an amazing massage rated an A+. My therapist Off (a nickname) climbed on the table and kneaded me from head to tow with her hands, elbows, arms and knees... quite an experience!
The wind kicks up; Captain Bjorn once again changes course for the comfort of his passengers. We anchor outside the harbor of Kampalonia, instead of Fiscardo; a launch whisks us to shore. We wander around town; a fishing boat sorts its morning catch of sardines; I buy ½ kilo, hoping the chef will grill them for lunch. Back on board, chef accommodates my request, preparing platters of grilled sardines I share with other passengers. I squeeze lemon on my own heaping plate, munch on a Caesar salad and empty a few glasses of chilled chardonnay. I am in “SeaDream heaven”. After lunch I move to the aft deck, snuggle into a lounge chair; cover myself with a light blanket and drift off to sleep.
When I return to my cabin, an invite requesting the pleasure of my company at the captain’s table tonight prompts me to add a little glitter. Captain Bjorn, having completed more than 100 cruises, keeps us amused with seafaring tales. At 10:30 we move topside to watch the Zamboli Volcano spew red hot lava.
We gain an hour as we approach Sicily and set our clocks back. I watch the sun rise through my porthole window; six foot swells rock the boat as we head for Messina. The scenic drive from the dock to Taormina is breathtaking; the sun glistens on the Mediterranean; a farmer fills a red wood wagon with vegetables he has just picked. We wind our way past white washed villages, through tunnels blasted out of the mountains. Taormina, with its cobblestone streets, arches, columns, and cupolas, is one of Sicily’s prettiest towns . . . dramatically photogenic with a sense of timelessness. Corso Umberto Street is lined with elegant shops, art galleries and restaurants. Steps up and down this hilly town lead to multi-colored 15th and 16th Century Moorish style mansions, 5 star hotels and hidden garden cafes. Lunch in Maffei’s garden is pure perfection; we share linguini with olives, tomato sauce and grouper; the waiter filets my grilled bass at the table, adding a lemon olive oil and garlic mix. I sip a crisp white house wine reflecting on how the eruptions of nearby Mount Etna have shaped the surrounding countryside.
Sea Dream Cuisine
Executive Chef David Richardot, with an amazing staff, presides over “an innovative and creative gourmet restaurant at sea”; every meal is a celebration of the art of preparing and plating exceptional cuisine. Each day’s menu is carefully planned, taking advantage of fresh seasonal ingredients. Chef tells me: “I use as much fresh as possible; it arrives once a week, plus I supplement it with trips to local markets; I prepare my menus two weeks in advance. We have such a large number of repeat passengers, we keep track of their favorites. Guests love when we have a day at sea and they can participate in cooking classes. Our recently published “ SeaDream Cuisine” Cookbook is receiving rave reviews”.
Chef David’s dinners, preceded by cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, are a bountiful multi-course celebration: a choice of soups, salads, a middle course, Chef’s Main Dishes, a nightly signature dish, cheese and deserts. Some of my favorites: grilled lobster tail on saffron rice, green vegetables, crispy shallots and bouillabaisse sauce . . . the Caesar salad, . . . almond crusted supreme of free range chicken with tomato cous cous and shallot crème. . . grilled veal saltimbocca with sage leaves, herb linguine and Marsala sauce . . . and Beijing Whole Roasted duck on stir fry noodles with crispy vegetables and hoi-sin sauce. There’s also an a la carte menu: broiled filet of organic salmon with caper butter, rosemary marinated lamb chops, chicken breast with herbs and a variety of pastas . . . as well as daily vegetarian alternatives and an Oriental Wellness Cuisine. Excellent complimentary wines and champagne flow freely at every meal, as did Andre and Jan’s polite, professional and charming personalities; they have indeed mastered “the art of pleasing” and anticipate what you need before you realize you want it, be it fresh hot bread or another glass of wine. A wide selection of reasonably priced wines by the bottle is also available. Pastry chef Garfield Anderson’s signature deserts were hard to resist, especially sautéed strawberries with candied black olives and olive oil ice cream, his baked figs with cinnamon ice cream, fondant au chocolate with vanilla ice cream, pecan cheese cake served with sour cream topping and butter scotch sauce
Chef David’s culinary crescendo hits a high note with his Menu Degustation, a seven course tasting menu, presented the fifth night at sea. We feast on caviar, fresh Canadian lobster on new potato salad with avocado cucumber crème, crostini with pistachio pesto, cream of pumpkin soup with tarragon and roasted pumpkin seeds, nectarine and rose champagne sorbet to cool and clear the palate . . . then a choice of sea bass with truffle risotto or honey and spice roasted saddle of veal with sautéed chanterelles and fondant potato. Warmed morbier cheese, enhanced with truffle flavored honey, followed by a raspberry soufflé with white chocolate ice cream, home made petits-fours and chocolate truffles is reason to applaud.
By now we mingle with ease; other passengers are an ageless mix, congenial, low key yet fun and eclectic in background, profession, age and personality: Ralph is a forensic psychologist from Miami, traveling with Tony who works for Boeing in Seattle; Stephanie and Nick live in Palm Beach; Joe and Brian are antique jewelry dealers from New York; Lorraine and Keith live in Santa Barbara; Ninfa and Bernardo, Catina and Vincenti live in Monterey, Mexico; Franz and her retired husband live in Amsterdam and the South of France.
The sea swells are high after last night’s rain; getting into the tender is a shaky feat. At the dock a small shuttle bus takes our group to point B where we board a larger tour bus for the 45 minute drive to Pompeii. Roberto, our Pompeii expert and guide, is from Sicily. He tells us “in Sicily if you have a problem and have a solution, no problem, if you have a problem and no solution, still no problem.” Sorrento was founded in 500 BC by Greek colonists, later occupied by French and Spanish; all left traces of their civilization. Tourism is the main industry; there are more than 200 hotels; it is a clean safe city, but the traffic is disorganized. We drive through the center of town, past groves of olive, walnut, lemon and orange trees; every inch of land is cultivated with more than 850 different kinds of flowers and vegetables. We follow the coastline, navigating hairpin turns. Leaving Sorrento we pass through the popular vacation village of Vico; the only place in the world that sells pizza by the square mile. Mount Vesuvius looms in front of us, meek and well mannered, defying its bad temper.
Pompeii's ruins, one of the largest archeological sites in the world, leads me back in time, almost 2,000 years. Once a thriving commercial center under Roman rule, the entire community of 30,000 were buried on August 24TH, 79 AD, when live cinder and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius covered the entire city. Furnishings, household items, artwork and food were preserved intact. We walk through streets rutted by chariot tracks; past the ancient forum, across the main square, enter homes of the wealthy, stand in front of barber and bakery shops where monogrammed carbonized bread remains in the ovens. We view body casts of victims caught in doomed attempts to escape; enter the public baths and marvel over the inlaid mosaic tiles. Excavation remains in progress; more than 25,000 inscriptions and artifacts have been found, including a working sun dial... helping scholars unravel the history of Pompeii.
In honor of our visit to Sorrento, chef‘s Italian dinner is a festive celebration: antipasti appetizers, zuppa, insalate and piatti principali dello chef, braised osso bucco of veal shank with gnocchi alla Romana and marinated grilled vegetables and tiramisu with mascarpone sorbet. After a hefty and robust dinner, we stand around the piano bar singing along with Gary; chief bartender Konrad mixes our favorite cocktails; others try their luck at a blackjack table.
Capri is, and always has been, a favorite celebrity playground. It was here Jackie O made fashion history ordering Capri pants in every color. Shopping, lunch at Fauno’s Bar and people watching are highlights of our visit; we take a local bus up the hill to Ana Capri to buy handmade jeweled sandals from the island’s 85 year old master shoemaker.
Our farewell SeaDream breakfast is filled with emotions; it has been a week that will remain in the hearts and memories of every passenger. Many have already booked their next SeaDream Odyssey.
SEADREAM YACHTING, different than big ship cruising, accommodates only 55 couples with a crew of 95. Being on board is the ultimate in luxury pampering, award winning service and outstanding cuisine . . . paired with visits to intimate harbors and ports not navigable by large ships. It is understandable why, once you experience the SeaDream, you can’t wait to re-board.
For more information on SEADREAM YACHT CLUB... to book a cruise... to order “ THE DREAM CUISINE” COOKBOOK: 1-800–707–4911 or visit www.seadreamyachtclub.com
Global Marine Travel, specializing in flying passengers to their cruise vessel in one city, then home from the city where the cruise ends (using specially negotiated fares) booked my travel from New York to Athens. Owner Tim Davey was most helpful in getting me the best fare quickly and efficiently, seats of my choice, and the flexibility of a refundable and changeable ticket. Additionally, if my plane was delayed or canceled, and I missed the sailing, GMT would assist in getting me to the ship’s next port of call. GMT works with travel agents and cruise customers. The biggest savings come on long haul flights, as opposed to domestic travel. If you are booking a cruise I highly recommend contacting them directly, or have your Travel Cruise Specialist do so for you. GMT arranges airfares for all major cruise lines and can be contacted at 1-866-746-8872 or via email [email protected] www.flygmt.com