Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goldring Travel Cruising on SeaDream Yacht Club - Italy and Corisca 2014 - Part III ("You Can’t Teach Five Star Service" and Bonafacio, Corsica)

I was anxious to see what my first full day on SeaDream Yacht Club would be like.  I was “up and out” early, so I sat by the Top of the Yacht Bar with a table admiring a fantastic view.  (We had been told that the sail into Bonafacio, Corsica is beautiful so to be on deck by 8:45 a.m. to see it.  Not a problem, as I had my spot by 7:30 a.m.)

Breakfast Setting on SeaDream II sailing in Bonafacio, Corsica
My focus, however, was less on the island, but the yacht.  What I observed was a ballet with the staff working as a team (I was later corrected that they are a “family”) providing different styles of service to each guest as they perceived the guests wanted to be treated.  It was interesting seeing how the felt out each guest as they arrived for breakfast (especially so as to myself, as they all knew that I was coming and were concerned about making a positive impression.)  

Once I told some of the staff to call me “Eric”; not “Mr. Goldring” I started to have a hand put on my shoulder when asked “May I get you another vodka and tonic?”  It is amazing how much a light touch can draw you in.

On the other hand, if someone does not like physical contact it can be highly offensive, so how does the staff figure it out?  As one of the staff later said to me, “You can’t teach five star service.  It has to be intuitive.”  I loved that for two reasons:  (1) It means SeaDream makes sure its staff is “intuitive”; and (2) SeaDream isn’t trying to hype its product to be more or different than what it really is.  It puts you at ease quickly…regardless of your preferences.

So, before I get into the details, the short version is:  My first full day has given me the impression that the staff on SeaDream Yacht Club “get it”.  They smile. They tailor their approach based upon each guest’s desires.  They work as a team.  They are focused on the details.  They are very proud of what they do.  And along those lines, I don’t think I ever heard the staff using the word “I”, but “we”.  I could be wrong, but the message is very clear:  SeaDream Yacht Club’s management lets the staff nurture not only the guests, but each other.

Now, back to my day!  As I was sitting watching the world go by it struck me that “al fresco” is an enormous aspect of SeaDream.  The “yacht” is set up to easily handle all of the 114 guests (yes, the ship is as full as it gets!) for al fresco dining with comfortable all-weather wicker chairs and varnished wood tables (with white linen dependent on the meal) spread among four interconnected areas; which keeps things intimate and more private.

Breakfast official starts at 8:00 a.m. (Early Riser coffee and Danish is available from 7:00 a.m.)  I order two nicely cooked poached eggs and sausage with a bagel and smoked salmon.  The nautical themed coffee mugs are a nice touch. 

I see a truly beautiful Bonafacio come into sight and then we docked at the entrance to a very busy yacht harbor with yachts and superyachts lining the quay.  But my yachting experience will have to wait because I have decided to be a “tourist” and take a SeaDream excursion consisting of a boat trip around the island and then a walk around to upper town (a tram ride away).  I was surprised at the limited number of guests taking the tour…and the other tour was cancelled for lack of interest…but the folks that did go were very nice and enthusiastic.

Bonafacio, Corsica's Coastline
We are met by an energetic woman I can only describe as a Corsican Julia Child.  She was, thus, quite entertaining.  The tour was entitled “train and boat”; we got the boat, but there was not train.  There was a short tourist tram pulled by a faux engine/tractor up the very steep hill to the top of the old town.  The tour was worth taking, though honestly, if I was a bit more responsible I could have read up on what she had to offer in a few minutes.  

Solving the problem of laundry hanging above your cafe!
But the boat ride showing off the spectacular coastline and her guiding us through the narrow streets was appreciate; especially because she told us to have a peak in a shop called Roba Nostra.  To her surprise she mentioned that there is a typical Corsican chestnut beer, Pietra, and our group just ordered a round.  (It wasn’t bad; much lighter in body than I thought it would be.)

As the tour of the old town was finishing up she said we would walk down the hill to the marina (where I planned on wandering later).  So, not wanting to climb that steep hill on foot, I asked if the tour was pretty much over; resulting in a number of us ending it early and staying in the old town.  By the look on the faces of the folks walking up the hill it was a very good idea!

One couple and I started chatting and took off on a wander.  Having seen pretty much only touristic restaurants, and really liking the looks of Roba Nostra, we walked in – dozens of jamon and salami hanging from the ceiling:

The woman recognizes me, looks me straight in the eye and says, “Charcuterie!” and walks to the rear of the store where there are a mere four tables.  So I followed.  The menu had three items on it in French:  Charcuterie, Fromage and Combination.  We were told that they serve Black Pig, which is particular only to Corsica. 

You know we went for the combination…along with a wonderful Corsican rose, Clos Canarelli.  I am not sure how long lunch lasted, but every moment was enjoyable from the food to the wine to the company.

As we started our decent down the hill we saw a man, who could have been either of us guys, sweating and looking like if he had to take another step up the hill he would pass out.  He gave us the look like, “Why the hell did I do that?”  And we saw that look from others, both men and women, as we sailed down the hill.  After a short stroll through the yacht basis (filled with touristic and overpriced shops and restaurants) we knew we did it right. 

I also thought that those who thought just getting off the ship for a quick wander would say Bonafacio is not worth a visit…but they missed what the place is really all about.  (It is not a port I would work a cruise around, but I wouldn’t discourage visiting it again.)

Back on SeaDream II I headed to the hot tub which is located on the aft deck, under cover, next to the pool bar and with a great view aft.  It was quite enjoyable, but more of a warm tub than a hot tub.  A waiter came around offering everyone a mango/mint drink that was very refreshing.  Nice touch!

SeaDream II's hot tub by the pool.
 After a bit of work and some relaxation it was time for Dinner with the Captain.  On SeaDream the dinner is not a formal affair.  In fact, I don’t think that is even possible.  We dined al fresco at the Top of the Yacht Restaurant.  

Beautiful al Fresco Dining on SeaDream II

Who needs wine when you can drink in this view on SeaDream II?

Captain Terje Willassen is charming, lively, always smiling man who was a wonderful host and makes his love for SeaDream Yacht Club more than evident. 

But the highlight of my dinner was the woman sitting to my right.  She is Kuwaiti’s first female parliamentarian and a dynamo.  Obviously I do not agree with everything she said or her perceptions on various topics, but the key to understanding the world is to respect and understand from where those positions are coming from.  I, possibly not so subtly, peppered the conversation and, to be sure, we both really enjoyed it…as, it seems, did the entire table.  Captain Terje even commented that it was nice that he didn’t have to worry about carrying the conversation.   (For those who assert cruising/yachting is not “travel” – and you know who you are – I love travel!)

After dinner I retired to the Top of the Yacht Bar for a couple of whiskeys and some fun conversation.  And the bar stays open as long as there are guests present; and this night it was well past 2:00 a.m…and all I saw from the staff were smiles and heard, “May I get you another…?”