Negligent actions have consequences…

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This post is also appearing on my regular blog. I’m cross posting it here, because it’s about travel, and my travel blog can always use extra content during a pandemic and “lite lockdown”.

Yesterday on my travel blog, I posted an article about SeaDream Yacht Club’s unfortunate COVID-19 situation. SeaDream, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic all inclusive luxury cruise line. It has two identical “super yachts” and it’s known for being an awesome cruise experience for couples. Bill and I have sailed with them three times. Our last voyage with them was in May 2013, when we sailed from Rome to Athens with a trip through the Corinth Canal.

Bill and I love SeaDream, but circumstances have not lined up for us to sail with them again since Bill left the Army. I still follow their message board on Cruise Critic. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis hit, I’ve been anxiously wondering if this line will survive the pandemic. Things were looking hopeful over the summer, when SeaDream managed to complete several Norway centric cruises without anyone getting sick from the virus.

After their success in Europe, SeaDream came back across the Atlantic and, last Saturday, attempted their first round trip Barbados cruise. In order to pull this off, SeaDream had to change a lot of its standard operating procedures. Prospective passengers had to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test at their own expense 72 hours before flying to Barbados. They had to take another COVID-19 test before getting on the ship, as well as have an interview with the ship’s doctor. Their luggage and shoes were cleaned with ultrasonic technology. Halfway through the voyage, they would have had to have another routine COVID-19 test to satisfy the rules for returning to Barbados. And, while they were cruising, they visited empty beaches, took catamaran cruises, and engaged in activities that did not allow them to be in contact with any host country nationals.

Having been on a SeaDream cruise, I can tell you that I’m sure it was just fine even without the freedom to engage with locals, shop on the economy, or go exploring. I’m not sure if the piano bar was open, but that was my favorite part of a SeaDream cruise anyway, besides the many cocktails and endless champagne.

Unfortunately, someone DID get sick with COVID-19. As of Wednesday morning, the 53 passengers have been stuck in their staterooms, which I can attest to being really nice, but not very large. The windows don’t open and there are no balconies. It’s a nice cage, but it’s still a cage.

A video done by a couple of Geordie lads who have been blogging about SeaDream’s voyages. They are on the ship as I write this.

The person who got sent to a Bajan hospital with COVID-19 was part of a group of six who evidently decided to overnight in Miami on the way to Barbados. From what I’ve read, other passengers heard the afflicted one talking about partying in the south Florida city for a night. Four others in that group also had positive COVID-19 tests, but evidently aren’t showing symptoms. The fifth person’s test was inconclusive.

Now… in thinking about this, it occurs to me just how many people have been affected by this group’s decision to overnight in Miami…

  1. 47 people have had a very expensive and luxurious vacation ruined.
  2. 66 crew members have had their livelihoods directly threatened.
  3. 113 people have had their health threatened.
  4. The entire cruising industry has had another blot on it regarding health and safety standards.
  5. Hundreds of future passengers will be affected because SeaDream will be cancelling upcoming cruises.
  6. All of the businesspeople depending on support revenue for the cancelled cruises will lose money– ie; pet boarding, taxi services, airlines, etc.
  7. People watching SeaDream to see if cruising during a pandemic could be done safely will be affected.
  8. A whole lot of people have been affected by this… I hope that night out in Miami was worth it.

It really is a shame that this happened. As I wrote in my travel blog, I won’t consider cruising again until there’s an effective vaccine against COVID-19. I don’t think cruising while fretting about a virus on a luxury ship is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get this virus under control before too long. On the other hand… I’m not holding my breath.

Hopefully, those who got sick won’t get too sick… and the passengers will be able to get off the ship and go home without too much trouble. We’ll see what happens. Actions have consequences. But, on the bright side, by undertaking this experiment, SeaDream has provided some valuable data for others. Perhaps that will help some smart people figure out the best way to get back to a life approaching normal at some point.

ETA: the count is now up to seven COVID positive.

SeaDream Yacht Club forced to return to Barbados due to COVID-19…

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Some people are bound and determined to try to keep living life the usual, pre-COVID-19 way. As much as I would like to do that myself, I know, as someone who has an advanced degree in public health, as well as someone with plain old common sense, that it’s not a good idea. Cruising, right now, seems especially ill-advised, even as it remains a tempting diversion.

Bill and I enjoy cruises. We particularly like to sail on small vessels with all inclusive terms. So far, we’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean (one four night cruise), Hebridean Island Cruises (five cruises), and SeaDream Yacht Club (three cruises). Hebridean and SeaDream are both considered by many people to be “luxury” cruises, mainly because they offer a high standard of service and are all inclusive.

Until recently, I’d been wanting to sail on SeaDream again. Our last cruise with them was in May 2013. Over the course of an unforgettable week, we traveled from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Athens (Piraeus). It had been our habit to pre-book cruises on SeaDream. We’d pay $2500 for an “open booking” while still oboard, which would allow us to choose one at a later date that fit our schedule and logistics. But in 2013, Bill was staring down his retirement from the Army, and we weren’t sure what the future held in terms of his employment. We didn’t pre-book another cruise on our last voyage and, so far, things haven’t lined up for us to cruise on SeaDream again, although we are more able to afford it now than we ever have been.

Even though it’s been over seven years since our last magical SeaDream cruise, I’ve continued to follow them on Cruise Critic’s message boards. SeaDream has been in the news lately because it’s resumed cruises in the Caribbean. It recently had a three week transatlantic crossing for SeaDream I, which began in Oslo, Norway and arrived in Barbados. The resumption of cruising was met with many cheers. Indeed, right now, there are several representatives of the press and travel bloggers aboard the ship, including a representative from Cruise Critic. Everyone was hoping they could make cruising during a pandemic successful so that people might start having some fun again and people whose livelihoods come from cruising could get back to work.

One blogger in particular, Gene Sloan of “The Points Guy”, has been covering the voyage extensively and posting pictures on Twitter. A few days ago, he posted photos of staff members not wearing face masks. That led to a lot of angry comments from people who saw the post. But, Sloan reiterated, that before anyone was allowed to embark the ship, everyone had to have two negative COVID-19 tests– one prior to flying to the island and one by the ship’s doctor prior to embarking on the ship. Everyone in the group that has been cruising recently tested negative– and there are only 53 passengers onboard, as opposed to the 112 that SeaDream vessels can usually accommodate. Staffing is at 66 members, so service has probably been incredible. Aside from the testing, SeaDream invested in ultrasonic cleaning devices that supposedly made cleaning “hospital grade”.

Apparently, passengers were assured that they would not have to wear face masks on the ship during the cruise. That was the main reason some people booked the voyage in the first place. They wanted a break from the COVID-19 nightmare and the oppressive face masks that have come with it. And– make no mistake– despite my public health background, I do hate the masks, even as I understand that they’re necessary for now. I totally understand why some people booked so they could escape having to wear the damned things. Since SeaDream did have a successful three week cruise from Oslo and required so much testing prior to embarkation, I’m sure plenty of people felt perfectly safe. I know I would have.

As it turns out, a passenger on the current voyage did start feeling poorly. Passengers would have been required to be tested again anyway, per Barbados’ requirements, but the passenger who felt ill requested a test prior to the one that was already planned. It came up positive. Prior to the positive test, SeaDream had reversed course on its no mask requirement, and passengers were asked to wear masks when they weren’t eating, drinking, or in the water. People were pissed off enough about that– but now they’ve been ordered to their staterooms until they’re all tested again. And who knows if they will be able to continue the cruise, thanks to the one person who tested positive.

I posted about this situation last night, since I have at least one friend who has had the magical SeaDream experience (in fact, that’s where we met). I wrote this:

Not good. They are getting bad press, too, because they weren’t making people wear masks. I wouldn’t want to be on a cruise in which I had spent $10,000 (for two people) and be forced to wear a mask, either. Seems like now isn’t the best time to be cruising. And now they have someone who is COVID positive. Yikes.

In response, I got this comment:

Would you want to spend $10,000 on a cruise and catch the virus because someone didn’t wear a mask?

I was actually a little surprised and disappointed that someone would assume my comment was simply an “anti-masker” statement. I do hate the masks and feel quite fine in saying so out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m non-compliant or in need of an intervention. I do understand why masks are required for now.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, my mantra has been that it’s more important to stay home as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. I have literally not left our neighborhood since October 4th, when we came back from Slovenia with Noyzi. During that trip, we didn’t even eat in a restaurant. This is the same thing I did for about three months last spring– I stayed home almost exclusively from March until June, going out only to walk the dog. That, to me, is much better protection against COVID-19 than a mask is. People will still get sick whether or not masks are worn; it’s just a question of the ease of virus transmission, which is somewhat less when people wear masks. So, to the person who made the above query, this was my response:

No, I would not consider spending that kind of money on a cruise until a vaccine is available. I don’t plan to cruise if people are going to be required to wear face masks, especially on a line like SeaDream, where alcohol is included. I have sailed with them three times and have seen firsthand how people can behave. Lots of money plus entitled attitudes plus booze equals trouble, particularly during a pandemic. People drink a lot on those cruises.  

The blogger who was sharing pictures of the staff members not wearing masks got screamed at by a fellow passenger. Evidently, they were told that masks would not be required and they would not have booked the trip if they were told they had to wear them onboard.

The mask mandate came on Monday night after the pictures went live and people were posting angry comments about the irresponsibility of not masking, despite the many measures that were taken before people were allowed to embark. But, as this article reports, despite everyone being tested three times pre cruise, someone came up positive. I have gotten sick on cruises before and would definitely not want to risk it right now with COVID. It’s very easy to get sick on a cruise. But I also hate the masks and would not find cruising fun while wearing them, anyway.

To be clear– I think it’s crazy to spend five figures on a luxury cruise right now. Some people don’t mind wearing face masks everywhere. That’s good for them. I would definitely not enjoy being forced to wear a mask on a cruise, yet I understand that masks help stem the tide of COVID-19. I will wear them where I have to wear them, but no one needs to be on a luxury cruise during a pandemic. So, until an effective vaccine is available, I won’t be cruising at any price.

I will admit that I would be particularly pissed off if I’d spent $10,000 to be stuck in my stateroom and forced to wear a mask in a place like Barbados. I have been to Barbados, and it’s a very beautiful place akin to actual paradise! But I don’t need to go there so badly that I’d travel there from Europe during a pandemic. And now, it’s possible the people who are on that cruise will spend ten-fourteen days holed up in Barbados in quarantine, likely at their own expense! No, thank you.

There is promising news of an effective vaccine being made out of company in Mainz, Germany, only twenty minutes from where I live. The story surrounding the creation of the vaccine is fascinating on many levels; I hope someone will make a movie out of it or write a book. The married couple who have been working on the vaccine are really interesting people who seem to be focused on doing actual good. I can wait to cruise until their work is completed and we have an effective weapon against the virus that makes it less contagious and dangerous.

As I mentioned before, I have sailed with SeaDream three times. It’s a beautiful experience. The staff is wonderful and kind and mostly genuine. The ship is small– a bit old, but pristine, and immaculately maintained. The itineraries are interesting, exciting, and unique. I have met several great people on that ship, to include a couple of famous folks (who were surprisingly normal). But as incredible as SeaDream or any other cruise experience is, I have experienced getting sick on at least three cruises– twice with nasty colds and once with the dreaded norovirus, which made me puke and gave me horrendous diarrhea for about 36 hours of sheer digestive hell as I was also enduring my menstrual period (fortunately, the sickness was coming on as we were disembarking).

It’s VERY EASY to get sick on a cruise, although with only 53 people onboard, there’s plenty of room for social distancing on SeaDream I right now. The fact remains that you’re in an enclosed environment and you eventually will be exposed to everyone. In fact, I remember on our last cruise on Hebridean Princess, one of the staffers told me that he was always having to battle sickness. It was passed around the ship. If someone came aboard who was sick, there was a very good chance everyone else eventually would be, too; and they’d still have to work, regardless, so that means they’d also be spreading their germs.

Alcohol is included in SeaDream’s fare, and they weren’t going to require masking while eating and drinking. I have seen firsthand that booze is freely offered on SeaDream. You could spend the whole time drinking champagne and eating warmed peanuts if you wanted to– and I have done just that. Ordinarily, that would be a selling point for me, but I have seen the way some people behave after a few drinks. On one SeaDream cruise, Bill and I witnessed a drunk man helping himself to booze, getting very angry at a group of passengers, and actually inviting one or two of them to “step outside”. Imagine how he would react to being required to “mask up” after paying so much to be onboard the ship!

I am a writer myself, although not a famous one (at least in most circles). I can imagine innocently posting a photo from my travels, having it go viral due to someone noting that precautions aren’t being taken, and then being yelled at by another cruiser for spoiling his experience. That has happened to Gene Sloan from The Points Guy, who no doubt was doing his part to publicize SeaDream’s cruise and get the industry going again. Yes, you’d better believe that some people will pay for a maskless experience– same way some people will pay for a condomless prostitute. I can’t blame them at all for wanting to vacation without a mask, but doing so right now isn’t a very smart idea. And paying $10,000 to do it and expecting that nothing will go wrong is also not a very good idea, even though SeaDream cruises are forever tempting. The fact remains that COVID-19 is a real thing and it’s sneakily determined to fuck up everyone’s fun, no matter what.

So I’m going to stay on land for now. I don’t want to wear a mask on a cruise. That wouldn’t be fun for me. And I don’t want to pay $10,000 to be on a luxury cruise, having made the extreme efforts to be COVID-19 negative, only to be trapped on a boat and confined to my stateroom because someone comes up positive (and I don’t blame them– they probably have no clue where they got the virus). I really hope SeaDream and other cruise lines can stay afloat during this mess. I would love to sail with them again, but not until we’ve sorted out this pandemic. Norovirus was bad enough. I’d like to avoid respirators for as long as possible.

My beloved SeaDream I caught on fire a few weeks ago…

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And now I’m not so sure I’ll ever get on the ship again.

The fire happened at about 2:00am on September 1st in Italy, off the coast of Calabria in the southern part of the country.  It was in the engine room.  105 passengers and 61 crew members were aboard and they weren’t evacuated until the afternoon of the 2nd, perhaps twelve hours after the fire was extinguished.

I’ve been on SeaDream I three times.  The first time was in the Caribbean in April 2010 and it was my very first taste of luxury cruising.  I fell in love hard and fast, even though I got pretty seasick.  The second time was in the southern Caribbean in November 2011, in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary.  That cruise was also magical, though maybe not quite as much so as the first had been.  The third time was in Greece and Italy in 2013.  I would say that was the best of the three SeaDream cruises we’ve done, but we were not moved to pre-book another one.  With that, we lost momentum and haven’t yet been back, though I have been shopping for possibilities.  I haven’t been on SeaDream II yet, but it’s pretty much an identical ship.

We took a Hebridean cruise this year because we live in Germany and it’s somewhat convenient to get to Scotland from here.  They had a whisky themed cruise that I found easy to convince Bill to book.  They also gave us discounts that amounted to 15% off the fare.  We’re doing another Hebridean cruise next year, because it’s going to Northern Ireland, a place neither of us has ever been and, again, it was something we could afford.  Hopefully, we will still be in Germany at the time it sails, just under a year from now.

In any case, SeaDream I’s fire has really messed things up for a number of people.  Because SeaDream I is currently out of commission, there’s only one ship operating.  A decision was made to replace one of SeaDream II’s upcoming cruises with an itinerary from SeaDream I’s.  That means that people who were booked on SeaDream II are being bumped, mainly due to a large charter.

Now… while I totally understand why SeaDream made the decision it did– purely for business– I can’t help but think I’d be pretty devastated if I were planning to be on SeaDream II’s cruise and got bumped at the last minute.  This situation is one reason why I ALWAYS get travel insurance when I book a cruise.  It generally costs at least five figures to sail on SeaDream.  A last minute change like this, even though it’s due to a fire, can really result in the loss of a lot of money.  It’s also kind of heartbreaking.  I always look forward to my cruises with SeaDream and I would be crushed by a sudden cancellation.

As for the hapless passengers who were on the ship when it caught fire, it sounds like they went through quite a scary ordeal.  They were on the disabled ship for about twelve hours before they were removed.  Given that it was an emergency situation, I doubt the prosecco was flowing… but who knows?

I will admit that another reason why I hesitate to book SeaDream again is that I’ve been overdosing on Below Deck, Bravo TV’s show about crews on luxury charter yachts.  It’s kind of spoiled the mystique for me, because it’s very clear that what they do is all about getting a big tip.  SeaDream has a loosely enforced no tipping policy, but Hebridean’s policy is very strict.  They explain that tipping can lead to embarrassment, so it’s not allowed at all.  I have no problem with tipping, as long as I know what to expect ahead of time and can be prepared.  On SeaDream, it’s not expected or required, but people do it anyway– or they contribute to the “crew fund”.  I prefer to just pay a lot ahead of time and not have to worry about it.

So… anyway, I think if we try a different cruise line, it may be time to give Seabourn a chance.  Or maybe we’ll try Azamara, where apparently a lot of former SeaDream crew members have gone.  I have a friend I met on a SeaDream cruise who has defected to Azamara.  On the other hand, both of those options mean bigger crowds on the ship.  But they also mean nicer staterooms and, perhaps, more to do than drinking and sunbathing!  We also really want to try barge cruising or maybe even a river cruise, although river cruises might be a little too geriatric for us at this point.

We’ll see.  There are so many great cruises to choose from, we really can’t go wrong…

Captured on SeaDream I…  Amalfi coast of Italy.

And an enchanting shot off of Hebridean…  leaving Tarbert Castle.

Big cruise ships vs. small ones…

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Tiny SeaDream 1 next to a gigantic P&O ship in Antigua…

 

My husband Bill and I have done seven cruises, six of which were on very small ships.  Our very first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, which is one of their oldest and smallest vessels.  I think Vision of the Seas carries about 2400 people max, which makes her pretty small for a Royal Caribbean ship.  Compare Vision of the Seas to Royal Caribbean’s enormous Oasis of the Seas, which carries over 5000 people, and Vision of the Seas seems positively dainty.

Bill and I enjoyed our first cruise on a big cruise ship, but we didn’t like the huge crowds and nickel and diming that went on all the time.  Though there’s plenty of do on a big ship and it’s easy to escape the crowds if you are so inclined, we determined that we liked the idea of small ships and all inclusive cruising better.  So we tried SeaDream Yacht Club and, to date, have been on three SeaDream cruises.  Either of SeaDream’s mega yachts only carries 112 passengers at a time.  So the staff gets to know your name.  So do the other passengers.

Later, we tried Hebridean Island Cruises, which is an even smaller ship.  Only 49 passengers are aboard at a time.  That means even more personal attention and even more inclusiveness.

Bill and I had a great time on our most recent cruise, but once we disembarked, I couldn’t help thinking I’d like to try another cruise line.  There are several I’m interested in.  One I’ve been wanting to try for years is Un-Cruise Adventures, which is an American line.  If we hadn’t moved to Germany, we might have cruised with them this year instead of Hebridean.  I’ve also been wanting to try Seabourn for a long time.  Azamara has kind of piqued my interest, too.  So has Paul Gauguin Cruises, though I doubt we’ll be trying one of those until we’re back in the States.  It takes way too long to get to Tahiti from Germany!  None of these cruise lines have ships that are super huge, but most of them are smaller than anything you’d find on a mainstream line.

Some people love the really huge ships with many restaurants, shopping venues, waterslides, rock climbing walls, Waverunners, and the like.  Me?  I like a ship that has really good food, all inclusive pricing, and excellent service.  I also like ships that don’t pressure me to tip.  One thing I like about Hebridean is that they operate on a strict non tipping policy.  SeaDream also doesn’t pressure passengers to tip.  Instead, those who want to tip are encouraged to donate to the crew fund.  The only exception is when you use the spa, where tips are expected.

Don’t get me wrong.  When I go out to eat or get personal services, I tip.  I have waited tables before and understand how it is, especially in the United States.  However, I find tipping rather awkward.  I never know how much to tip or how to go about doing it gracefully.  I would rather cruise lines (and restaurants, for that matter) pay their people appropriately.  I know it’ll probably never be popular practice in the United States not to tip because servers like being in charge of what they can earn.  But I think the people who employ servers should be paying them and not putting that duty off to the customer.  I thought this when I was a server myself, too.  I would seriously rather pay higher fares than deal with tipping.  I remember being on Vision of the Seas and noticing the video about tipping on the ship’s television channel.  I thought it was really tacky.

Another thing I liked about the smaller ships is that a lot of times, what you pay up front is what you pay.  At the end of a SeaDream cruise, we usually have a bill.  It’s never been as big as it was when we cruised on Royal Caribbean.  When we’ve been on Hebridean Princess, we have never had a bill at the end.  We don’t even give them a credit card when we board.  I like that.

I’m not sure when our next cruise will be.  Bill has said more than once that he wants to try river barging.  I am definitely up for that.  That means an even smaller boat.  I think most barges only carry about a dozen people.  Tipping is also expected and you don’t tend to cover as many miles on a barge.

There are drawbacks to small ship cruising.  For one thing, smaller ships don’t tend to be as stable as the big ships are.  You can end up getting pretty seasick on the small ships.  I never have on Hebridean Princess because they mostly stick to the lochs, which are usually pretty calm.  They also anchor at night.  I have gotten very seasick on SeaDream 1 on more than one occasion, often in the middle of the night when they move to the next port.

Another drawback is that it can be hard to escape people who get on your nerves.  If you happen to be on a cruise where a large group has booked, you can end up feeling a little like an afterthought.  Big groups on small boats can overwhelm the ambience a bit.  If there’s someone you clash with, it can be hard to avoid them.  On the other hand, the small ship also allows for very personal attention and service.  For instance, I got a big kick out of one of the bartenders on Hebridean Princess going out of his way to make me a Brandy Alexander.  That probably wouldn’t happen on a huge ship.

Anyway… my guess is that the next cruise we book will be a barge somewhere in France or perhaps Ireland.  Things will get even smaller!  But I haven’t ruled out Seabourn or another SeaDream cruise. I may even get crazy and try another line.  We’ll see.

Tiny SeaDream one in the foreground and a huge Celebrity behind it.  Actually, this photo makes me want to book a SeaDream cruise…  

Five star cruise ship food porn…

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At the risk of sounding trite and using the now somewhat cliched term “food porn”, I am inspired to post about some of the fantastic food we’ve enjoyed on SeaDream I and Hebridean Princess.  These two ships are both five star all inclusive vessels.  For the most part, the food offered on them is outstanding.  SeaDream’s menu tends to be Asian influenced and includes raw items for those who are into raw food.  Hebridean’s menu is very traditional and British and not quite as extensive as SeaDream’s is.

I liked the food on both ships and have had the chance to tour the galleys on SeaDream I and Hebridean Princess.  I am amazed at what the culinary staff is able to do in such small quarters.  I especially enjoyed Hebridean’s kitchen staff, who tried to tell me a story about hunting haggis… to which I said, “Bollocks!”  They thought that was funny… or maybe I thought it was because I was high on scotch after trying haggis for the first time.

Anyway, I often wonder about the stories cruise ship employees pass around after their guests are safely out of earshot.  On luxury ships, I’m sure the standards are high and they run into their share of tough customers.  The beauty of luxury cruising is that there are fewer tough customers than what they would have on a large mainstream line like Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

So, without further ado… here’s a parade of food I have enjoyed on my five luxury voyages…

Minute steak on SeaDream I

Salad!  SeaDream I

Prime rib on SeaDream I

Looks like fish and risotto…

We were presented with this cake after dessert and chocolates… Never did really get to eat it.

Thai satay style lunch on SeaDream I.

Pasta on SeaDream I.

Dessert!

Eggs Benedict made with regular bacon instead of Canadian.  I requested that.

Smoked salmon scrambled eggs and caviar…

Not sure what that is… looks lovely, though.

Pear sorbet in a candy dish… Yes, the dish is made of sugar candy and is completely edible.

Hmmm…

This was part of the tasting menu.  I think it was filet.  Excellent beef!

Grand Marnier souffle!

Caviar and champagne…

This was the day of the Champagne and Caviar Splash… There was lots of food.

Dessert extravaganza!  The pastry chef insisted that I take that huge piece of sugar candy that was part of his display.

A nice simple dessert.

Raw food.  This was actually very good.

I think that was duck.

Raw panna cotta!

Breakfast on Hebridean Princess.

Colorful!

Fish!

Smoked salmon and shrimp!

Eton mess… very yummy!

Lovely rice pudding with raspberry.

Looks too good to eat…

Mmmm…

Salmon and potatoes…

Beef and asparagus…

French toast!

Haggis.  It was not bad at all, especially when washed down with scotch.

Fish!

I think this was lamb.  Must have been Bill’s dinner.

Scallops!

Duck

Fish!

Gelatin with berries… 

A fruit and ice cream surprise…

Lemon pudding…

Ham…

Burritos! SeaDream style…

Chicken breast!

Strawberries and chocolate

I think I have the itch to book another cruise.  Unfortunately, I don’t want to do that until we know if Bill is going to have a job after June.  For now, I think I’ll have to gaze at all these photos and be inspired by the creativity of some very talented chefs.

Lobster on Hebridean!

Pork…

Pear…

This is making me hungry…

Disembarkation… and going to Athens!

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Upon waking the morning of May 18th, 2013, I knew it was time to move on from SeaDream I.  I’m always ambivalent on the last morning of a cruise.  I have never had a bad cruise.  Even our first cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was a great time.  But I do have a tendency to get seasick and as much as I love SeaDream and its amazing staffers, there does come a time when I’m ready to get off the ship.

We met some very nice people on our cruise.  I always find SeaDream cruises interesting anyway, because they are very intimate as cruises go.  You will run into just about everyone at least a couple of times over the course of a week.  Some people will be friendly and some will be aloof.  One thing is for certain, though.  You will see just about everyone everyday and it’s both easy and fascinating to observe everybody.

Bill and I are somewhat unusual in that Bill is in the Army.  I have yet to meet another active duty servicemember on a SeaDream cruise, though we have met a few folks who had served at one time.  Although Bill works with some people who would probably be right at home on a SeaDream cruise, I think a lot of servicemembers opt for mainstream lines because they are more affordable and offer a lot of kid friendly activities.

Some people are very bold when they find out what Bill does, though.  In the past, we have actually been asked how we can afford to cruise on SeaDream.  Frankly, until a few years ago, cruising on SeaDream would have been out of the question for us.  I don’t have a full time job and for the first few years of our marriage, we were recovering from Bill’s first marriage, which had left him in dire financial straits.

To be totally honest, things really turned around for us when Bill was deployed to Iraq back in 2007.  While he was gone, we got extra pay.  For the six months he was gone, I made a commitment to paying down debt.  Then we moved to Germany for two years, where we also got paid extra.  That allowed us to pay down more debt, plus we only had one car when we were in Europe.  Bill is a senior lieutenant colonel, which is a pretty decently paid job.  The truth is, though, we have to plan very carefully and save up for our vacations.  The Army gives Bill plenty of leave, but our trips are still precious to us because it takes work, commitment, and cooperation to make them happen.

Check out all the big ships!

I went up on deck on that last morning, noticing how huge Piraeus is and how many large ships were docked nearby.  Right behind us was one of the Seabourn triplets.  Across the way was a Windstar ship.  The enormous Ruby Princess was parked behind the cruise terminal and actually looked like it was part of the building.

We enjoyed a nice breakfast, waited on by Mikee and Brian.  I remember telling Brian that I really admire all the SeaDream staff members for being able to work so hard for so long.  I told Brian that I had once waited tables in a busy restaurant. I pretty much hated the job itself and looked forward to going home at the end of each shift.  I have a low tolerance for very demanding people and, knowing that, admire people who can handle difficult customers without breaking a sweat.  Not that I noticed any really difficult passengers on our cruise.  For the most part, people on our voyage seemed pretty relaxed.

People who work on ships can’t just go home when things get rough.  They have to cooperate with each other.  SeaDream’s staff make cooperation look effortless.  I never once saw anyone looking disgruntled or unhappy.  They all had genuine smiles on their faces and most of them seemed to take a lot of pleasure in coddling their guests.  I thanked Brian for all he did and he rewarded me with a beautiful smile and a big hug.

I hate to see the pool with the net over it…

I made the mistake of booking our cab for 10:30, so Bill and I waited in the salon for awhile.  While we were in there, Rose started arranging flowers and setting up tables for the next group, which would be embarking at 2:00pm that afternoon.  When we finally left the ship, it was like we were saying goodbye to some wonderful friends.

Sniff, sniff… goodbye again, SeaDream I.  See you next time!

Going to Athens…

At the stroke of 10:30am, our cab driver from Star Group Taxi Services arrived to take us into the city.  I had booked this cab on the advice of a fellow SeaDreamer we met on our November 2011 cruise.  The suggestion turned out to be a good one, as the cabbie had a very clean Mercedes taxi, was friendly,  and made a point of telling us about Athens.  He told us that Athens is a very safe city, but you have to watch out for petty thieves.  In particular, he warned us about Romanians and Nigerians who try to scam tourists.  Bill and I had run into these folks on other occasions.

When we lived in Germany, we used to get visits at our home from Romanians looking for work.  The French couple we met in Florence also spoke of being bothered by street people in their home country, though they had never been visited by them at home.  Before I even got to Greece, friends were telling me to watch my purse and wear a moneybelt.  I let Bill handle that!

Our cab driver dropped us off at Hera Hotel, a small boutique hotel I found on Jetsetter.com.  It was still early, so our room wasn’t ready.  Lots of people were in the process of checking in and checking out, so the foyer was crowded with bags.  We left ours under a large table and went for a walk that ended up getting us a little bit lost.

More on Athens with my next post!

Hera Hotel

Day 5 of our SeaDream cruise… Greece!

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I was very excited when I woke up on Wednesday, May 15th.  We were in Fiskardo, Greece.  It was my very first time in Greece, though I have been to many other European countries.  I’d been waiting years to cross Greece off the bucket list.  As it turned out Fiskardo was a delightful stop.  Bill and I both really enjoyed it for its picturesque beauty and almost eerie calm and quiet.  Seriously, after having spent days in busy Italian cities and ports, Fiskardo seemed like an oasis of tranquility.

The Greek flag is flown…

Views around Fiskardo…

The little port town was very tourist oriented, with lots of restaurants and shops.  Bill and I walked past them and up some steps near a church.  We walked a little ways on a road that ran by the church and a children’s playground and soon found ourselves at a tiny little beach with clear blue water.

Cute little beach with frigid water!

I couldn’t resist stepping into the water.  Thankfully, I had my water sandals on, because the beach was a bit rocky.  The water was also very cold.

We walked around some more in the little town and Bill said he could totally see renting an apartment in Fiskardo and just enjoying the serenity of the place.  It was very pretty and peaceful, despite all the foreign tourists who were being accommodated.

After we had explored the little town, we went back to the yacht and enjoyed plenty of cocktails, including a couple of Manuel’s amazing mojitos, as well as the Champagne and Caviar Splash.  That was the first time I’d ever done the Splash in Europe, where they are held on deck 3 instead of on a beach.  I have to admit, I much prefer the less crowded conditions of the beach for the Splash.

There’s nothing like one of Manuel’s mojitos and a Bali bed…

The Splash!

Musicians playing some groovy music…

Protein overload.

Later that evening, we dined on deck four with Nat Green, SeaDream’s new cruise director.  He gave us some interesting perspectives about SeaDream, as well as a little dirt on the possible plans for a new ship.  He also let us know that those who will be on the upcoming Black Sea cruise leaving today will get a special treat that he helped arrange.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those lucky folks… and I hope Nat is able to pull it off.

After dinner there was a dessert extravaganza.  I went down to the table laden with beautiful, rich desserts and the chef insisted that I take a huge piece of candy that was used as a garnish (and is occasionally used to make little dishes for SeaDream’s desserts).

Desserts!

I was also able to make it to the piano bar on Wednesday night and my voice was mostly back to normal.  That turned out to be kind of a cool evening, since one of the passengers played a few songs at the piano and was quite the virtuoso!  George was a very good sport about giving up his spot for a few minutes.  I met a charming couple from Northern Ireland and really started to realize how music bonds people.

I was basically starting to feel better by the time we made it to Fiskardo.  It was a good time to get over the worst of my cold.

 Clearly beautiful water…

Charming village!

Day 4 of our SeaDream cruise… Taormina, Sicily

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First view

We woke up on Tuesday, May 14th in Taormina…  Actually, we weren’t in Taormina, but a coastal town near Taormina.  SeaDream was running a free shuttle bus to take cruisers to Taormina.  A lot of people also went on the excursion to Mount Etna, which I understand was pretty strenuous.  Some people were ill-prepared for the colder temperatures on the mountain.  One couple described the excursion and said they’d actually brought coats with them and they really needed them.

Sun was very welcome…

Bill and I went to the coastal town, but never made it on the shuttle bus to Taormina because I was still feeling pretty sick and was very tired.  The defining characteristic of my cold this time was overwhelming fatigue, and I ended up sleeping a lot on this cruise.  I wish I could have gotten up early as we sailed into Sicily, though.  I would have liked to have seen some of the scenery.  I had never been to Sicily before.

The coastal town wasn’t all that nice.  We walked around near the waterfront and were hustled by a couple of cab drivers looking to make some money.  One guy stopped us and gave his opinions about President Obama.  I also noticed a museum that looked like it might be interesting, but I didn’t have the patience to visit it.  If I had been feeling better, I definitely would have taken the shuttle SeaDream had arranged.

Etna is in the distance…

Beach… I probably would have enjoyed lying there for awhile.

As it was, we came back to the yacht and I had another long hot tub soak.  Job brought me more prosecco and I basked in the pleasant sunshine for awhile.  Once again, I really wanted to go swimming, but the water was very cold and I don’t think SeaDream opened the marina for swimming that day.

I really wanted to swim with these fishies…

SeaDream did allow water sports and I noticed a few people using the Wave Runners.  One guy even changed his shorts while on deck.  From my vantage point in the hot tub, I managed to see his bare butt for a second or two, even though he had sort of covered himself with a towel.  It was kind of shocking.  Later, another passenger mentioned to me that she had also seen what I saw.  We both wondered why he hadn’t gone to a restroom or his cabin to change.  But hell, people in Europe aren’t nearly as shy about nudity as a lot of Americans are.

I seem to remember having flounder for lunch, which I paired with an order of fries.  One of the waiters told me that we would be offered fish and chips later in the week.

Handsome devil…  I think that’s our favorite place to sit.

I’d have to say I was feeling the yuckiest on Tuesday, so once again, I went to bed early and skipped the piano bar.  I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 Mount Etna

One of Manuel’s best margaritas…

Day 3 on SeaDream… Amalfi!

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We woke up Monday morning with a lovely view of Amalfi, another coastal Italian town.  I remember watching an episode of Passport to Europe with Samantha Brown when she visited Amalfi and talked about the beauty of doing nothing…

First view of Amalfi…

Nothing was pretty much what I felt like doing, thanks to my cold.  Nevertheless, we did venture ashore and were rewarded with yet another stroll in a very cute and tourist friendly Italian town.  We ate breakfast in the dining salon that morning.  I had oatmeal and asked for a “wee dram” of scotch.  I noticed a couple of passengers watching curiously as Olivier brought me a shot of scotch to pour into my oatmeal.  I really only needed a few drops.  I learned during our Scottish Isles cruise on Hebridean Princess that a little scotch can be heavenly in oatmeal.  Besides, Bill enjoyed drinking what I didn’t use.

After breakfast, my Nikon was suitably charged, so I was able to take it with me into Amalfi, which also has steep pathways but none I felt like I had to climb to get somewhere cool.  In fact, compared to Capri, Amalfi seemed very laid-back.

The center of town…

The sun kept coming in and going out that day and it was still a bit too chilly to think about swimming, even though the water was so blue and inviting.  Somehow, we ended up in a pedestrian tunnel which spit us out on the other side of the town, where I was able to get a few nice shots of the coast.  Unfortunately, I was still really fatigued from the cold and craving a massage from one of the tiny Thai ladies in the SeaDream spa.

Mmm… fresh fish!

Bill poses after asking about batteries for my camera.  I think we gave up on that after Amalfi.

We ran into this cool little display in Amalfi.  I was gratified to see an Italian school girl taking a photo as well…

BIG lemons!  Almost as big as my melons!

 
 

Beautiful shoreline…

After a couple of hours walking around, we boarded the somewhat treacherous tender and headed back to the yacht, where I made a beeline to the fourth deck.  I made a spa appointment for an Asian Fusion treatment for 2:00 that afternoon.  Then, I slipped into my bathing suit and sat in the hot tub for awhile, while Job the waiter kept me supplied with plastic flutes full of prosecco.  I couldn’t help but notice a much larger Silversea cruise ship was also in port.  I had seen two of them when we were in Venice, and I’m pretty sure this one was not one of the two we’d seen previously.  If I’m right, that means at least three Silversea ships were in Italy.  I think there was also a Le Ponant ship in port, too.  Bill and I couldn’t help but notice how much it was listing.  I was definitely glad I wasn’t onboard that rocking vessel, even though I’m kind of curious about Le Ponant.

Excuse the yucky bathing suit shot, but this is how I enjoyed Amalfi…

After lunch, I went to the spa and sat in the sauna and steam room, which helped soothe me somewhat.  Then, a very tiny and cute massage therapist worked some of the knots out of my body.  After an hour on the massage table, I was feeling very relaxed and needed another nap.

I noticed during lunch that SeaDream had changed out their china.  Instead of the blue and white plates with little anchors on them, they had black and white plates that looked very modern.  I kind of missed the old plates.  It seems silly to notice it, but I did.

I made it to the piano bar on Monday night, but was a bit hoarse and couldn’t sing worth a damn.  I left early and hit the sack.  Our stewardess, Antonette, left us breath mints.  No, it wasn’t a hint.  SeaDream usually leaves little gifts at night and breath mints are what they give on the third night, I think.

Beautiful scenery…

I could get used to Amalfi…

Our third SeaDream cruise…

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May 11th… the day Bill and I had been looking forward to for many months had finally arrived.  We had arranged for a private taxi, courtesy of RomeCabs.  I booked RomeCabs on the advice of several Cruise Critic regulars, most notably Jim Avery.  I am not at all sorry I booked with RomeCabs, though it would have been cheaper to take the train.  Our driver, Marco, took outstanding care of us and picked us up a little bit early with a small, clean, Mercedes van.  As he drove us out of Rome, he pointed out some of the sites and made a point of reminding us that RomeCabs was ranked #1 on TripAdvisor.  I told him I knew about that and, in fact, booked his company due to RomeCabs’ many fans on Cruise Critic.  Bill later told me that Marco had encouraged us to write a review and Bill was happy to tell him that I always review things.  I’m pleased to note that I will be writing a very positive review of RomeCabs.

We arrived at the Civitavecchia pier at the stroke of 2:00pm, which anyone who has ever sailed with SeaDream Yacht Club is the magical hour at which guests can board.  Marco pulled up right next to the tent where we dropped our bags.  After very briefly stopping to arrange for our bags to be delivered, we were waved aboard one of our favorite vessels.  It’s truly a breeze to board SeaDream.  There’s no standing in line to speak of.

We climbed the gangway and were greeted by Captain Bjarne Smorawski and his crew, which included new club director Nat Green, and several Thai spa ladies passing out chilled washcloths and glasses of bubbly.  We made our way into the salon, where a very nice spread of finger foods was laid out for us.  George the pianist and the guitar player, whose name I never managed to catch, were playing tunes on the baby grand piano on the stage.

A couple of passengers immediately recognized me from Cruise Critic, which kind of made me feel like  a celebrity.  It’s nice to know I still look like my photo.  We were quickly issued ID cards and shown to our stateroom, which was room 212.  On our two previous voyages, we stayed on the third deck.  The only difference between deck 2 and decks 3 and 4 is that deck two has portholes instead of a picture window.  Other than that, I didn’t notice a difference and can honestly say I wouldn’t pay extra for a room on a higher deck.

First view of SeaDream I

Half bottle of chilled champagne…

Traditional shot of Bill in his life vest.  I do this every time we cruise.

 

Bill and I immediately met a couple who had recognized me from Cruise Critic and we chatted for awhile as people were checking in.  I always enjoy looking around on the first day, checking out the people with whom we will be spending the next week.  As usual, the folks cruising on SeaDream mostly fit a certain well-to-do segment of society.  Bill and I are far from wealthy; he is an Army officer and I make a pittance from my writing.  But we save and plan so we can be fancy for a week out of every year or so.  And on each of the three cruises we’ve taken on SeaDream, we have met some very nice people.  This cruise was no exception.

Of course, some of the very nicest people on SeaDream are staff members.  Bill and I were glad to see some of our favorites were still onboard, smiling and welcoming as always.  The one exception was Felix, a German waiter from Hamburg who was on our first two cruises.  His dry wit and consummate professionalism had won us over.  Alas, Felix went to work for the passengers on Seabourn Legend.  I had heard from a couple of sources that he hoped to come back to SeaDream someday.  Now that Legend has been sold to Windstar Cruise Line, who knows what the future holds for Felix?  Hopefully, we’ll see him again.  I know I wasn’t the only one who missed him.

But anyway, though Felix was not onboard, many other favorite staff members were.  I could list them all here, but in reality, everyone we ran into was excellent this time.  I can’t complain about anyone, though we interacted with some staff members more than others.

After an excellent dinner, Bill and I headed for the piano bar, which is really my favorite place to be when the sun goes down on SeaDream I.  I did lots of singing with George, the pianist, and enjoyed way too much prosecco poured by chief bartender, Manuel.  The prosecco gave me a slight hangover, which I dutifully reported on the Internet.  I was glad to see the price of Internet had gone down significantly since our last voyage.  It went from $35 a day to $99 for the week.  It’s still a lot of money, but $99 beats the hell out of $35 a day.

When it was time for bed, there was a lovely rose waiting for us.  Our stewardess, Antonette, put it in a vase for us to enjoy all week.  Having taken a Bonine earlier to ward off my customary seasickness, I was feeling fine after a nice, hot shower in the three headed shower stall.  I slept well my first night as we headed for our first port of call on the Island of Capri.