Sunday, August 11, 2013

Goldring Travel Cruising on SeaDream Yacht Club - Italy and Corisca 2014 - Part II (Getting There, The Stateroom and First Impressions)

SeaDream is more of a cruising yacht than a yatchie cruise ship
The day of my departure for my week on SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II was a study in contrasts.  I pride myself on making the trip to a destination (be it a cruise ship or a land experience) easy and efficient.  But I spent a good bit of my day with a new client who has never really traveled, but was hell-bent on insisting that the journey to his vacation would be such an ordeal it would be unbearable…and, in fact, probably not worth even attempting…and then that accommodations would be too small based, of course, on what he read on the internet.

Meanwhile with a 8 hour flight, then 6 hours of downtime, I was about to board a “yacht” more so than a cruise ship, but not truly a private yacht…and would be staying in stateroom rather than a suite.  So while I must not prejudice my thoughts or create expectations that are unrealistic, but fresh with a prime example of how many people have misguided “knowledge” based upon questionable sources, my journey is about to begin.

Getting There Doesn’t Need to be An Ordeal

After putting in most of a day’s work I arrived at the airport about 2.5 hours before my flight to Rome.  Being United Premier Gold my check-in took about 8 minutes…3 minutes of which was trying to explain to the man blocking the aisle that you just walk up to a computer terminal to check-in as “people” don’t check you in.  Then it was off to security…on a Friday afternoon in the summer with one hour plus horrifically long lines…I approached.  But I have taken the time to be TSA pre-screened, so my line consisted of only 3 people.  I was through and into the United Club in about 5 minutes.  That’s right:  Curbside to cocktail in less than 15 minutes.

I boarded my flight to Rome in one of the first boarding groups and was sitting in my bulkhead aisle premium economy seat with plenty of space for my Goldring Travel backpack overhead.  My old noise-cancelling headphones had seen their day, so I just purchased new ones.  There was no way I was going to plunk down $400 for Bose, but there were some pretty great reviews for Soul’s at about a quarter of the price, so I thought I would try them out.    What I slice of heaven!  Great sound and really efficient at cutting out the drone of the aircraft and people around you.  If the noise on your flight bothers you, it is worth this small investment. (Note:  My daughter would not let me purchase plain black ones, so I had a sort of Jamaican theme about my head…but she says it gives me a chance at having some style!)

After reading through a pile of magazines I am always promising to get through, a couple of scotches, a movie and a bad meal, it was time for a sleep; only to be awoken hours later by the aircraft cabin lights coming on for breakfast.  Passport control was not too bad, my bag was delivered…and my brand new phone wasn’t working in Europe.  (The idiots at Sprint assumed because it has a SIM card it would work in Europe, but it isn’t GSM compatible so I am sans mobile phone for a week.  I am not sure that is a terrible thing…as I do have wifi, but more on that later.)

As I arrived at 7:20 a.m. and SeaDream Yacht Club is quite strict about not boarding anyone until 2:00 p.m., I booked a room at the Best Western Rome Airport.  This gave me a nice breakfast (Italian coffee, granola, eggs and croissant), a place for a power nap and a hot shower for 60 Euros – a bargain and far better than trying to kill time somewhere in the purgatory of Fumiacino Airport/Civitavecchia.  My car arrived at bit early (I like to see that!) and I was off to the ship at 12:30 p.m. for the trip that usually takes 1.25 hours.

My First Hours and Impressions on SeaDream II

I am not sure how, but my driver (who was not driving like a crazy Italian…and we know about those folks!)…efficient made the trip in a mere 40 minutes.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that I was required to sit in a tent at the Port of Civitavecchia waiting to board until 2:00 p.m.

As I was sitting I see a group of 19 Norwegians arrive with children and strollers with very young children.  Now rather than having the anticipated “Oh No!” I see it as a golden opportunity. Why?  Because one of the criticisms of SeaDream Yacht Club that I have read about is that a group or a family with children can really negatively impact upon your experience.  Now I get to see if this is true.  For me this is a bonus…and an opportunity for SeaDream to show me how they address those challenges (both for the families and the other guests).

Just after 2:00 p.m. we are guided from the tent and we walk down the quay to the yacht.  We are greeted by the Captain, officers, Thai spa staff, and smiling staff along with a cold glass of Prosecco.  We are led into the Main Salon where a guitarist provides background music and a very plentiful and well-presented antipasti and finger sandwich buffet is presented to keep us occupied as they take one person/couple at a time to be checked in.  It was a little awkward, as I am traveling alone, to sit there for about 20 minutes, but the music and food was good…and June (pronounced June-ee) made sure my glass was always filled.

SeaDream II Oceanview Stateroom

The check-in process took only moments and I was off to my stateroom (403).  On SeaDream Yacht Club all of the staterooms are essentially identical (save three larger ones) varying only by location and those on Deck 2 having portholes rather than picture windows.  Remembering that this is a yacht and not a cruise ship, my 195 square foot stateroom is quite well laid out.  

A vanity at the foot of SeaDream's stateroom bed makes for good use of the stateroom's space
My bed is dressed in crisp white linens next to the window with a vanity area at its foot, while the living room area has a built-in sofa, its own desk, plenty of drawers and storage space and an adequate hanging closet.  The room around the bed is a bit tight, but serviceable and does not feel cramped or closed in at all.  (There is a removable wood cover under the bed, making stowing your luggage a snap…while keeping the yacht feel.

The bathroom, while beautifully clad in marble, is tiny.  Interestingly, the marble shower is actually quite a good size and is fitted with a multi-jet system.  The vanity is very small, but works.  My challenge is the toilet as you need to walk in, close the door and then slide into the area.  Most certainly not a deal-breaker, but important to note. Personally I think a cramped toilet in order to have really nice shower is a great trade-off in design.  (I will see how well it all functions over the week, but I can tell you that if my wife was along, finding space for my “stuff” would probably be a non-starter.) 

After unpacking I headed to the Top of the Yacht Bar after a quick tour of the ship.  Instantly you can tell the service is excellent.  The bartender greeted me, the wait staff was scurrying about attending to every new face and comments like “So good to see you again” and “I am so happy to be back onboard” were commonplace.  It sets a very nice tone.  

I enjoyed my vodka and tonic and the side dish of nuts and chatted with a lovely American family (including their three daughters) taking their first cruise after spending a week on power land trip around Italy.  It was announced that due to high winds and some rougher seas the departure would be delayed until 9:00 p.m.  While that should not have been a reason to have another drink, it was a good enough excuse.

As I am traveling alone, when I entered the dining room I was asked if I wished to be social or to dine alone.  I thought that was an interesting way to ask if I wanted to dine with someone.  Nice. I had dinner with an older, and quite interesting, Australian woman.  As I came in later than she, I sort or rushed through my courses, but enjoyed them all.  A nice antipasti platter (beautifully presented), a delicious corn and crab chowder and very nicely prepared duck breast.  (I know the dishes don’t pair well, but I was rushed and just picked what I liked.)

Pablo, the sommelier, knew that my dinner companion – a past SeaDream guest – liked Cote du Rhone so he poured it freely for her.  I drank a Tempranillo…and then after my meal Pablo, who now had some time, came over for a chat and offered some Cotes du Rhone to me to try.  Very nice.

An after dinner whiskey and a cigar brought my long day to a close.  

With a comfortable bed and the ship having little more than a gentle rocking, I slept…soundly.

A very nice first day.  But tomorrow will start my understanding what SeaDream Yacht Club is really all about.