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.

SeaDream Yacht Club drops a bombshell…

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Recently, SeaDream Yacht Club has been teasing its prior passengers with promises of “big news”.  Even though our last SeaDream cruise was in May 2013, I still really like this cruise line and would love to sail them again… soon, if possible.  Although I haven’t signed up for an upcoming cruise yet, I did sign up to get the big news.  Just a little while ago, I got the email with the latest scoop.

Ever since its inception, SeaDream has had two ships– SeaDream I and SeaDream II.  They are identical, except SeaDream I was built in 1984 and SeaDream II was built in 1985.  They used to be called Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II.  For years, there have been rumors swirling about a new vessel.  In fact, in 2013, during our last cruise, the cruise director had dinner with Bill and me and told us about plans for a new ship.  But then, that guy ended up quitting his job just a few weeks later.

Well, as of today, we know SeaDream will have a new vessel called Innovation which will allow SeaDream to add over 200 ports around the world, to include polar regions.  The new ship will have three marinas, a seaplane, and its own helicopter.  The staterooms will also all have balconies.  At this point, they’re saying the ship will be ready by September 2021.  I hope to do another SeaDream cruise before then, if time and finances allow.

Since Bill left the Army and has been establishing his new career as a contractor, the opportunity to take a SeaDream cruise has eluded us.  We have been fortunate enough to take Hebridean cruises in Scotland and, in fact, I actually prefer Hebridean in some ways.  However, SeaDream was our introduction to small ship cruising and they go to places Hebridean can’t.  SeaDream has things Hebridean Princess doesn’t have, like a piano bar and a marina… and a pool and Thai spa.  Plus, the clientele is a bit different, although not necessarily better or worse.  I’ve met a few celebrities on SeaDream, while on Hebridean, it’s more likely to meet very wealthy British people.

Computerized screenshot of the new vessel.

So this is exciting news, although I highly doubt any voyages on the Innovation will be in our price range.  SeaDream cruises are very expensive and they annoyingly add port taxes after the already high fare.  I like the way Hebridean does things.  You pay a huge fare, but it’s truly all inclusive.  Once you pay, you don’t have to worry about anything else, except whatever you might buy in their tiny gift shop.

So far, we’ve done three SeaDream cruises.  Our first, in April 2010, was San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, USVI.  It was just five nights and cheap, especially for SeaDream.  I think I booked a guaranty fare for $1599 a person.  The second was in November 2011, St. John, Antigua to Bridgetown, Barbados.  And the third was in May 2013, Rome, Italy to Athens, Greece, with a passage through the Corinth Canal.

I had my eye on a voyage happening this summer, but Bill didn’t want me to book it.  Now I realize I probably should have gone ahead and booked it.  Especially now… because I really, REALLY need a real vacation.  

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Innovation’s fares.  I might just laugh at them for awhile as I dream.

One of my favorite SeaDream memories.

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.

May we travel a lot?

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It’s hard to believe May is going to be over in eleven days.  This morning, as I was looking at Facebook’s “On this day” feature, I noticed that May seems to be the month Bill and I most often choose for our adventures.  Even when we lived in the US, we always seemed to be in Europe in time for Eurovision.

Tomorrow, we leave for this year’s May trip.  We’ll be driving, so I’m going to take my laptop with me.  There will be blogging aplenty in the coming week-and-a-half.  Since my travel blog has been pretty quiet lately, I thought I’d take a look at some of our trips of Mays past.

2012–  Our very first military hop!

In 2012, Bill and I were living in North Carolina.  For years, I’d been bugging him about trying to take a hop somewhere.  My dad was an Air Force retiree and he and my mom took Space A flights several times when I was a kid.  I never got to go with them, though, so I wanted my turn.  In May 2012, Bill finally gave in and we drove from our home in Sanford, North Carolina to BWI near Baltimore.  That night, we were on a flight to Germany.

I was very excited because we’d lived in Germany from 2007-09 and I was pining for it.  We spent about $32 to get on the Patriot Express and by the afternoon, we landed at Ramstein.  I had never been to Ramstein before, so that in and of itself was exciting.  From Ramstein, we went to Cologne, where we spent a night.  Then I got a Blind Booking on Germanwings (now Eurowings), thinking that we’d get to go somewhere cool because the Cologne airport offered more choices.  We ended up with a flight to Munich.  No matter, though, because we had a blast.  We got train passes good for all of Germany and certain border areas, so while we were in Munich, we visited Salzburg.

Bill enjoying a Maibock at the Hofbrauhaus.

We spent three nights in Munich, then flew back to Cologne, where we hopped a train to Trier.  Trier is located very close to the Luxembourg border, so we were able to visit Luxembourg and get close enough to the French and Belgian borders to walk across if we’d wanted to.

A very pretty church in Rodanthe, Luxembourg, right across from a Portuguese restaurant where we had a cheap and delicious lunch.   Minutes after we passed this church, we ran into a hen party.  One of the women in the party was wearing a rubber phallus on her nose and an adult diaper.

That first trip was fairly short.  We were gone about a week.  But with that first success came bravery and we’ve since done two more “hops”.

2013– SeaDream cruise–Italy and Greece!

Back in November 2011, Bill and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary on SeaDream I.  That was our second cruise on the small luxury mega yacht and we had a great time in the southern Caribbean.  During that trip, we pre-booked another cruise and ended up choosing to visit Italy and Greece.  Although Bill and I visited Italy during our first Germany tour, we never made it to Venice, Florence, or Rome.  We also never went to Greece together, though Bill did get to go to Crete on a business trip.

Venice!

Amalfi coast from the ship.

 

Capri from the tender.

Because Bill had never been to the “holy trinity” of Italian cities, we made plans to see Venice and Florence on the way to Rome, which was where we’d be picking up our cruise.  On the other side of the cruise, we would spend a couple of nights in Athens.  Although I love SeaDream’s cruises and that particular one was a lot of fun, I ended up getting sick with a nasty cold.  We still managed to have a fantastic time.  I am wondering when our next SeaDream cruise will be.

2014– Our third military hop!

In May of 2014, we lived in Texas and Bill was preparing to retire from the Army.  Because he had terminal leave, we decided it was the perfect time to take another hop.  We had taken our second hop in January and ended up in Spain and Portugal.  This time, we were trying for Germany.

We got to Germany and stayed a night in Ramstein, where we met some Americans who had come from Belgium to play sports.  The Americans were based at SHAPE in Belgium and Bill ended up talking to them.  They gave him pointers on how to get us moved back to Europe.  I remember telling Bill that night that I had a feeling we’d be moving back to Germany.  Sure enough, weeks after we came home to the USA, Bill had a job offer in Stuttgart.

Boats in Nice

Lyon…

Beautiful sea in Nice!  Everything’s nice in Nice! 

On that trip, we visited Champagne country (Reims and Epernay), Dijon, Lyon, Nimes, and Nice.  While we were in Nimes, we visited an old American friend of mine from high school and college.  I hadn’t seen her since the 90s.  She’s lived in France for about twenty years and has three very French kids!  I loved Nimes and want to go back, not just to visit that city again, but to see some of the surrounding areas.  In fact, we very nearly decided to go back to France this year, but then I realized we’d not been to Slovenia yet and that’s been on my bucket list for awhile.

We really enjoyed Nice, though it’s quite a big city.  I’d love to go back there during the summer when swimming in the beautiful blue water is feasible.

From Nice, we flew back to Germany via Vienna, then took a day trip to Bacharach, on the Rhein.  We ran into some drunken fathers and sons at a biergarten.  Bill ended up talking to one guy who tearfully told us how the Americans had helped his family escape East Germany.  That really turned out to be a very special day…

Bill and me in Bacharach among many drunk German guys…

2015- Stuttgart

We didn’t go anywhere in May last year, though we did take trips in April and June.  I count it, though, because we had not yet been back in Germany a year as of last May and being in Germany still felt like a vacation.  Last May, we visited Triberg and Calw, two places I never visited during our first tour here.

Triberg…

Calw

2016- Austria, Italy, and Slovenia

Stay tuned for details.  I can hardly wait!  Incidentally, the first time we lived in Germany, we never took overnight trips to Austria.  This time, we keep going back there.  This will be our fourth time during our second tour!  On the other hand, last time we were here we went to Belgium and the Czech Republic several times.  This time, we’ve given those countries no love…  Ah well, maybe we’ll get back there next year.

Pam Conover resigns from SeaDream…

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Less than a month ago, I blogged about SeaDream Yacht Club’s turnover.  When I wrote that post, I was a little hesitant, since I am definitely no cruise line insider, nor am I even really a travel expert.  I just like to travel when I can and I like to write about my experiences.  I have cruised on SeaDream three times and mostly enjoyed each time.  However, as a Cruise Critic message board poster, I also regularly follow SeaDream’s forum and this morning, learned that Pam Conover, a highly regarded and much touted executive who joined SeaDream less than a year ago, has just decided to resign her position, effective December 4, 2013.

This is yet another worrying departure on the small, but much beloved, luxury cruise line.  Of course, I don’t know why she’s leaving.  For all I know, she could be resigning for personal reasons that have nothing to do with SeaDream’s apparent decline.  However, I do know that at least on Cruise Critic and among a couple of people I met onboard, there seems to be growing discontent with the product, mainly because of issues people have been having with kids on the ships.

SeaDream I is headed for Costa Rica this month.  I was really wanting to book one of the Costa Rica cruises, but our circumstances didn’t allow for that.  If we hadn’t had to move to Texas, perhaps we would have pulled the trigger.  Every time we move, it costs money and requires time to get settled.  As it is now, I’m not really feeling the urge to book anymore.  I do have the itch to travel, but not necessarily on SeaDream, and that is a big change from the past, when I couldn’t wait to book my next SeaDream voyage.

I will be watching to see what people say about the Costa Rica cruises.  Even if we never do a SeaDream cruise down there, I would like to go to that region at some point.  If my teeth keep giving me grief, I might even go down there for medical tourism purposes.

One magical memory, courtesy of SeaDream…

SeaDream’s turnover…

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I probably shouldn’t blog about this because I’m definitely not “in the know”…

Over the past year or so, there has apparently been quite a bit of turnover at SeaDream Yacht Club.  The UK Director of Sales who worked for the company for years left in January of this year, as Pam Conover, former big wig for Seabourn took over.

On our cruise in May, there was a new cruise director named Nat Green aboard.  Bill and I got to meet him and really enjoyed him.  But then this morning, someone on Cruise Critic said Nat was “long gone”.  Our cruise was only a few months ago and Nat was new then, so it makes me wonder what happened if he’s really already “long gone”.  He seemed excited to be onboard and had told us about some big plans.  Other people who had met him seemed to like him a lot.  So if he left, I wonder why…

One of our favorite waiters “jumped ship” and moved on to Seabourn, while a few others now work for Azamara.

And then there’s been the complaining about kids on the ships as prices have gone downhill.  I don’t know what’s going on at SeaDream, but it’s troubling.  Bill and I have enjoyed all three cruises with them, regardless.  I sure hate to see such a nice cruise line go downhill.

As for our upcoming travel plans, they haven’t really been settled yet.  I think we’ll probably go to Europe again, though.  I don’t know where or exactly when.  Right now, we’re just trying to deal with all the government shutdown business and my dental woes.

Speaking of Seabourn, I would like to try them at some point… they definitely have nicer prices than SeaDream has.  On the other hand, I love SeaDream’s staff… those who haven’t jumped ship, that is.

SeaDream tempts me again…

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SeaDream  must be having a hell of a time filling up their cruises to Costa Rica.  I’ve been wanting to sign up for one.  But we had to move and life is more expensive in Texas than it was in North Carolina.  Yesterday, they sent me a private sale email with very attractive prices for three cruises, two of which are in Costa Rica.  The prices are low enough that I checked Delta to see how expensive flights are…

Sadly, it would cost a bundle to get down to Costa Rica or Panama.  I suppose I could check again… or maybe cash in some credit card points.  I really do want to visit Costa Rica and this is a great opportunity.  But it would be kind of irresponsible to go down there right now…  It would cost about $1500-$1900 just to fly to Costa Rica.  Then it would cost about $5200 for the cruise itself, which is not bad for SeaDream, but more than we have right now as we’re planning for Bill’s retirement.

*Sigh*

As much as the house in North Carolina was falling apart, I sure do miss the extra money we had there…

Kids on SeaDream…

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SeaDream I in San Juan, Puerto Rico…

I will never forget the first time I boarded a SeaDream cruise.  It was April 2010 and Bill and I had booked a five night cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands.  I remember the fare was a very reasonable $1599 per person plus government fees.  Yes, it sounds like a lot for a cruise, but SeaDream is all inclusive.  I had been trying to sell Bill on the concept of a luxury cruise for a long time.  Prior to our first SeaDream cruise, we had been on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, which took us to four ports in the Baltics.  We spent almost as much for that cruise, which wasn’t nearly as intimate or special… although given how expensive Scandinavia is, I think we probably got a nice deal with Royal Caribbean’s cruise.

Anyway, though our first SeaDream cruise was not at all perfect, Bill and I had a wonderful and unforgettable time.  We disembarked in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands completely blown away by the experience.  It took me a couple of months to stop fantasizing about our next SeaDream cruise.  I talked it up constantly and constantly shopped for new voyages.

We took our second SeaDream cruise in November 2011.  That cruise was also very special, as we were celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary.  Bill and I made a couple of new friends and I got to swim in some of the world’s most beautiful waters.  I got a terrible sunburn, but I also got to enjoy the piano bar for the first time.  By the time we were enjoying our Champagne and Caviar Splash in Mayreau, I was making plans to book again.  When we got home, I happily began what was becoming a ritual, searching for our next cruise.

Our third SeaDream cruise was in Italy and Greece in May of this year.  By the time we boarded this cruise, I was beginning to feel like a regular, even though there are others who sail SeaDream a lot more than I could ever hope to.  I started noticing things that made SeaDream less magical to me, even though our most recent voyage was probably the best of the three.  It was the best even though I got sick with a nasty cold during that week onboard.

I think one thing that made SeaDream less mind-blowing the last time was that Bill and I also sailed on Hebridean Princess less than a year ago, and that experience in Scotland made us realize that there are other great small ships out there waiting to be explored.  Another thing that made it less special was the fact that there were some obvious cost cutting measures being taken.  On our first cruise, champagne flowed freely.  On our second and third cruises, I noticed prosecco was being offered instead.  I wasn’t upset about the prosecco.  I like it fine.  Also, I understand that if I had asked for champagne, I could have gotten champagne.  But it was a sign that there were some pennies being pinched.

And then, I started noticing a lot of people on Cruise Critic complaining about kids on SeaDream.  While Bill and I have been really lucky– we’ve only encountered one kid on our three cruises and that was a baby who rarely made an appearance– others report having to endure large groups of unruly children running around on what are very small cruise ships.  Think about it.  SeaDream I and II are both tiny vessels; each is designed to carry just 112 passengers.  There aren’t that many places to go onboard when the rugrats are running wild.  Add in the fact that there are no balconies on either SeaDream vessel and you realize that locking yourself in your cabin for a little peace and quiet can result in claustrophobia very quickly.  Who books a cruise to hang out in their stateroom, anyway?

Our last SeaDream cruise cost about $7000, not including airfare, transportation, and hotel.  That price includes a 15% discount we got for pre-booking onboard.  All told, we probably spent $10,000 to do Italy and Greece SeaDream style.  Our last voyage was very good, but it didn’t make me forget Hebridean Princess, which was gloriously kid free and, in many ways, ultimately a better value than SeaDream was despite its generally higher fares.  I thought about pre-booking another cruise on our last SeaDream cruise, but realized our financial future is less certain since Bill has to retire.  And I remembered that there are other cruises out there just waiting to be explored in places SeaDream doesn’t yet go…

But also, I know that if I spent $10,000 for a SeaDream cruise and had to worry about kids pooping in the pool, hogging the lounge chairs, or snorkeling in the hot tub, it would really piss me off in a big way.  I realize that some kids are great around adults and enjoy grown up travel experiences.  Those kids are few and far between, though, and the average kid on SeaDream would probably not enjoy the experience that much.  SeaDream has recently started offering a makeshift kid program for voyages that have a lot of kids onboard, but it’s nothing like what other lines offer, including Crystal, which is considered a luxury cruise line.

Frankly, I can’t understand why a loving parent would subject their kids to a cruise where they won’t be looked upon fondly by most of the passengers or staff and probably won’t be kept entertained.  There are so many vacation options out there for families with young kids.  Some of those options are quite luxurious and allow adults to have their fun while their kids are properly supervised and can take part in fun activities with other kids.  Why choose a cruise line that is advertised as an adult experience for couples?

SeaDream is not designed for children and most children, when they are bored, will make sure everyone knows about it.  What ends up happening, then?  SeaDream’s “regulars” get pissed off and decide not to book again.  SeaDream loses revenue and has to drop prices, which makes it more attractive to families.  And then the families show up with their kids, who will no doubt endure dirty looks from other passengers.  The staff will endure complaints from child free  passengers who are rightfully upset about not being able to use the jacuzzi for a couple of hours because someone let their child take a dump in it.  Or passengers who can’t go to sleep because someone has let their children run up and down the halls, shrieking.  The kids are just being kids, wanting to burn off their abundant energy.  But many people go on vacation to escape this sort of thing; and people on SeaDream ships pay a lot to be there.  It’s selfish to subject innocent vacationers to your kids on a ship that is not designed for kids.  It’s selfish to SeaDream staff to expect them to entertain your little darlings when they are trying to entertain adults who can be very demanding and expect a lot for what they’re paying.  And it’s selfish to your kids to expect them to act like adults when they’re kids and just want to be entertained and be able to blow off some steam.

Granted, I have seen some adults on SeaDream act much worse than kids ever could.  The difference is that SeaDream apparently has no issue dealing with unruly adults who bother other passengers and will even kick these people off if they get too out of hand.  They apparently don’t do as much about kids or their parents, who let their kids annoy others who have paid a lot of money to be on vacation and may not have that many vacation days available to them.  The end result is that people who might have been loyal to the brand now can’t be sure of what their $10,000 is paying for.

I met a man on my second SeaDream cruise who said he had sailed four times with SeaDream and it was his favorite line.  Recently, he told me he doesn’t want to sail on SeaDream anymore.  And he has also expressed doubts that the line can survive the way it’s going now.  I didn’t want to believe him when he first said it, but I must say that the griping on Cruise Critic is starting to reach a fever pitch.  Unfortunately, even choosing cruises that happen at a time of year when kids are usually in school doesn’t seem to be helping some hapless cruisers, nor does it seem to matter if one chooses an expensive cruise.  The recent very attractive Black Sea cruise was more than Bill and I could spend for a vacation, but apparently it’s overrun with obstreperous kids anyway.

I don’t know if or when Bill and I will sail on SeaDream again.  I still have very high regard for SeaDream and its wonderful staff.  When it’s good, it’s very good.  But Bill and I don’t have the time or the money to gamble on SeaDream cruises if we can’t be sure our vacation won’t be ruined by the antics of unsupervised children running amok.  There just isn’t enough premium liquor in the world for that.

Still… this is pretty hard to give up forever…

Costa Rica again…

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SeaDream recently sent me an email with a link to the newest cruises for late 2014 and early 2015 (phew, that seems so far away).  I noticed they weren’t going back to Costa Rica, which makes me a little sad because I’d love to go there.  I know there are other cruiselines that go there, but I am a SeaDream fan.

So then I looked at what is still available for this fall.  One cruise had a super bargain guaranty rate of $2699 a person, which may seem like a lot, but for SeaDream is very reasonable.  It would be the week before Christmas.  I looked into flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and it would be about $1200-$1400 to fly down there.  The flights are a bit on the sucky side, but they are within our reach.

I must say, it’s REALLY tempting to book.

Booking that cruise, however, would mean that we would likely not be able to do anything next year.  We may not do anything next year anyway, but I was hoping to get rid of some debt.  And I’m also not sure I want to do another cruise so soon after our last one.

But still… it really is tempting.  I do want to go to Costa Rica.  And a Christmas trip might be just what we need.

Well, we’ll see…  When we get to Texas, we’ll be paying more for housing and we’ve heard energy bills are higher.  On the other hand, food is cheaper and there are fewer taxes.  And Bill will be closer to work, so he won’t be spending as much on gas.  We could also forgo TV, which would probably do me a lot of good.

I doubt we’ll do it, but you never know.