The intimate, friendly atmosphere makes a SeaDream yacht Greek islands voyage memorable for Becky Wiggins
It’s a beautiful, starlit night on deck and I’m nursing an appletini, looking at the glassy midnight blue sea with the Greek island of Patmos twinkling in the distance. The sea breeze, however, is threatening to whisk away the apple garnish. Instantly, a pair of hands appear and a voice says, “May I help you, Miss Becky?” This is the SeaDream way, whether it’s remembering that you like your breakfast tea nice and strong, or rescuing you from imminent cocktail disaster. Nothing is too much trouble.
Our cruise would take us from Istanbul, where I boarded SeaDream I, down the coast of Turkey before hopping across to the Greek islands and finally Athens; with 78 passengers on board, we were to be looked after by a whopping crew of 95.
At just over 104m in length, SeaDream I is compact, but manages to squeeze a small salt water pool, hot tub, indoor and outdoor restaurants, several bars, a spa and gymnasium, and even a miniature casino into its six understated but elegantly adorned decks. Once you’re on board, everything is included. There are no charge cards and no signature required, so whether you fancy an afternoon G&T or a late lunch by the pool, it’s all included.
Staterooms are comfortable but not showy, with crisp, Belgian bedlinen, a small lounge area with fully stocked mini bar, bathroom with double width shower, Bulgari toiletries and an ocean view (none of the staterooms have balconies). On my first evening, I returned to my room to find a pair of monogrammed pyjamas neatly folded upon my turned down bed. This was just the start of the thoughtful gifts and I found myself looking forward to returning to my cabin to discover what goodies had been left for me: a bottle of Champagne; some delicious chocolates; a sweet little drawstring bag; and even a thick cream card printed with an inspirational quote.
Life on board is cheerful and easygoing. Everyone says hello and stops for a chat, and the genuinely friendly staff quickly learned everyone’s names. The dress code is cruise casual – no ties at dinner. The Dining Salon is warm and welcoming, glittering with expensive crystal and silver tableware and aglow with flickering candlelight.
Dinner is the main event and service is expertly attentive. Highlights included a crab salad with creamy avocado mousse, superb seafood and a fillet steak served with sweet potato fries so good I ordered it several times during our seven-day voyage.
The menu consists of four courses, all with several choices, plus a range of classic options that stays the same every night. There is also a healthy ‘Living Food’ section of choices which are plant-based, vegan and raw. Diners can pick and choose across all menus, and if you choose to go off piste and fancy something that’s not listed, Executive Chef Tomasz will try his very best to accommodate you. Sommelier Robert chooses a different red and white wine to serve every night with dinner. The wine was consistently excellent, but there’s an extensive cellar should you feel like splashing out.
Meals are also served al fresco at the Topside Restaurant, which is just heavenly on a balmy evening. Land excursions come at a small extra charge, but if you don’t wish to join an organised land excursion, you’re welcome to strike out on your own and the helpful staff will provide maps, advice, even recommendations for their favourite restaurants. Staff and guests often head out to shore together, plus there are mountain bikes on board if you fancy being a bit more adventurous.
No shortage of entertainment
For sea days, SeaDream I has a state-of-the-art golf simulator, a well-equipped gymnasium and the Thai-certified SeaDream Spa, the only one of its kind at sea. I indulged in a La Prairie Caviar Firming Facial that left me with a lasting glow.
Of course one thing no cruise line can control is the weather. We dropped anchor in our first port of call, Kepez, in the pouring rain, and after a rather stomach-churning tender to shore we trudged around the archaeological site of the ancient city of Troy.
Our tour guide had to shout to be heard over the howling wind; still, back on Seadream I, rather damp and a little downhearted, we were treated to frothy coffee and delicious cakes.
Happily, the next day dawned bright and sunny as we sailed into Kusadasi. I joined an organised land excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus and was absolutely blown away. There have been over 100 years of excavation at Ephesus, and the glowing apricot stone columns and fascinating ‘terraced houses’ reflect centuries of occupation of this important trading hub. Walking the baking stones gently downhill through the site, the discoveries are breathtaking – from beautiful mosaics to intricate marble wallcoverings.
The trip back to the yacht does involve battling through the rather enthusiastic hawkers at Kusadasi port. My favourite was the one who promised me ‘genuine fake handbags’ while gesturing towards his treasures.
Water sports heaven
Our afternoon was spent messing around on the water. The yacht has a wide range of watersports on board and after a spot of kayaking on the surprisingly calm sea, I spent a frustrating hour trying to get upright on water skis (yes, I managed it, and I have the aching muscles to prove it). My fellow guests whizzed around on jet skis and even braved the ‘banana’.
After a couple of days immersed in ancient history, I joined some fellow passengers for a simple stroll around our next port, the pretty fishing village of Patmos. It’s a delightful place, with traditional white houses draped in hot pink bougainvillea, and we enjoyed browsing in local jewellery shops and sampling delicious local pastries.
Evenings on board are low key and after-dinner activities mostly involve cocktails at the Top of the Yacht bar, moonlit movies and even sleeping under the stars in the yacht’s Balinese Dream Beds (I lasted until midnight when it started to get chilly).
One evening boasted a dessert extravaganza, where an impressive amount of dairy and sugar was assembled by the pool and there were no rules about how many times you could return and fill your plate. Take your elasticated trousers.
Go island hopping
After the simplicity of Patmos, it was time to experience the glamour of cosmopolitan Mykonos, made fashionable by Jackie Onassis. We chose a guided walking tour, taking us from the harbour, through the winding, maze-like paths of the pretty white houses of Little Venice to the famous windmills visible from the ship.
After this, a short coach journey took us to a picturesque vineyard with an all-star cast of clucking chickens, fluffy rabbits, furry donkey and a very fat sausage dog, clearly expert at charming visitors. We tasted local red, white and dessert wines and fed much of the proffered selection of local meats and cheeses to the aforementioned dachsund.
The next day was spent wandering inside the medieval walls of the city of Rhodes, which has been colonised by just about everyone: Romans and Byzantines, Turks and Italians.
After the honey hues of Rhodes, our final land excursion saw us drop anchor in the deep blue volcanic caldera of Santorini. From the yacht, the town, perched high on the mountaintop, resembles a tumble of sugar cubes. Access is via a cable car, or a questionable ride on a donkey, up to the town of Hira, and from there we travelled north to charming Oia, where the cobbled streets provide wonderful shopping opportunities, endless vistas of blue sea and those incredible Aegean blue domes.
Back on board, for the first time in the Captain’s 20-year history of sailing to the island, we were alone in the caldera. Without any other cruise ships around, we were able to swim – a heady experience knowing that we could have been swimming directly above the remains of cities and civilisations, lost long ago beneath the waves after the volcanic eruption.
Making cruise friends
Travelling solo can be challenging, but on SeaDream I I never felt alone unless I wanted to be. I made friends with three lovely ladies from Florida and we happily shared dinner and land excursions. In the piano bar one evening I got chatting to Karen and Bob, who have sailed more than 160 days with the cruise line. It’s the intimate atmosphere and attentive staff that keep them coming back and there’s rarely a trip where they don’t know at least a few other returning guests.
SeaDream Yacht Club’s repeat customers often number more than 50 per cent of the passengers on any cruise, and I can see why. As the yacht slipped into Athens, the crew gathered to say goodbye. After a week sailing on this little ship with the warmest atmosphere I have ever encountered at sea, I will look back on my journey with genuine affection. I’m still getting used to holding my own appletini.
A seven-night sailing from Athens to Dubrovnik visiting Itea, Kefalonia, Parga, Kotor and Korcula on board SeaDream II departing on 17 September 2016, costs from £3,484pp based on double occupancy in a Deck 2 stateroom. Includes onboard dining and full use of yacht facilities, open bar with daily wine selection and select premium spirits. Excludes flights and transfers. For more details or to book, visit seadream.com. For packages, visit cruise.co.uk or call 0330 303 8192.
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