Stepping over the rope displaying a ‘do not disturb’ sign, we crossed the deck towards a huge bed, adorned with towel swans and rose petals. Dressed in the personalised pyjamas that had been delivered to our cabin, we snuggled under the duvet with a chilled glass of bubbly in hand and gazed up at the full moon, basking in the warm Caribbean breeze.
This was to be our night under the stars on the top deck of SeaDream I (which, we were instructed at embarkation, is a yacht, not a ship). The experience is certainly different from the cruising norm. With 95 crew to look after a maximum of 112 passengers, the level of service is quite astonishing.
“Nothing is too much trouble for our guests,” said club director Taylor Davies at his introductory talk after we boarded in San Juan, Puerto Rico – and that really seemed to be the case.
But that’s not the only difference you’ll discover aboard SeaDream I, part of the yacht club’s award-winning line of luxury cruises. Most meals, including dinner, are taken outside whenever possible, and there’s no formality, with shorts allowed at meals on the open deck. Being a mere 108 metres long, the 35-year-old ship visits smaller ports, away from the big cruise lines – though even then she anchors offshore, alongside millionaire yachts, transferring her guests ashore by tender.
Shore excursion numbers are tiny. On a visit to St. Kitts, where we landed on the opposite side of the island from four megaships and their thousands of passengers, my wife Mandy and I ended up in a minibus with just one other couple for what turned out to be a private tour by an enthusiastic guide named Winston.
‘Tell them Winston knew what he was doing,’ he urged us, smiling broadly as he kept ahead of rival buses to deliver us to attractions before the crowds.
Like Winston, the schedule aboard SeaDream I seems very flexible. Mooring at sea means not having to worry about docking slots, so the captain might stay later or arrive earlier than planned.
One day we managed to visit three islands – Tortola in the morning, Norman Island (said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) in the afternoon, and Jost van Dyke in the evening, with tenders to carry us to Foxy’s – a loud beach bar where yacht owners pull up at the jetty to join the locals for drinking and dancing.
SeaDream I remained moored off Jost van Dyke overnight so the next day – our last full day on board – we could land by Zodiac for champagne and caviar in the surf, followed by a barbecue on the beach.
Our fellow passengers were mostly from the US, but included every age group from octogenarians to under-tens. A third of them were repeat guests – though I’m told that two thirds is more typical – and many I spoke to had never cruised with another line.
It soon became obvious why many returning guests greeted the crew by name. They’re a small, dedicated team, so you get to know them – and vice versa – in no time. SeaDream I’s onboard facilities include a main lounge, a dining room, a small spa and a tiny casino (well, to be honest, it’s just a blackjack table).
The open-air restaurant spills over three decks, with tables in every nook and cranny. At the top of the ship is a bar and hidden away is a virtual golf range. SeaDream I – like her identical sister SeaDream II – harks back to a more genteel age of cruising, before the invention of water chutes and climbing walls. I half expected Hercule Poirot to turn a corner at any moment.
Not that the experience is sedate (unless you want it to be). At the back of the yacht is a watersports marina that opens most days, when the weather and local regulations allow, for guests to swim off the stern or take a jetski out for a spin. Passengers can also borrow any of the ship’s ten bicycles to go exploring ashore.
The on-board cuisine is – needless to say – quite superb, from the 24-hour room service to the six-course tasting menu in the main restaurant. There is a tremendous choice on offer at breakfast and lunch, and a vegan menu is always available at dinner.
House wine is complimentary, though there is an $80-per-person charge for wine pairings with the special degustation menu. Pleasingly, gratuities are included, so only shore excursions, spa treatments and premium wines are charged for. (For more on all-inclusive packages, read Heidi Fuller-Love’s guide.)
The party atmosphere started from the moment we set sail from Puerto Rico, with most of the guests gathering at the top bar to watch the sunset. ‘The bar is open for as long as you need us,’ said Taylor, while strangers became friends over cocktails – a great way to start the trip.
Our week-long cruise to St Thomas covered a modest mileage but packed in a rich itinerary of island stops, starting with Virgin Gorda, where I took an excursion to The Baths – a collection of pools between huge granite boulders that requires you to limbo dance under massive rocks.
Next came Anguilla and a $45 round-trip taxi ride to Shoal Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. We were slightly delayed on the way – our driver, Crispin, having to stop at half the island’s six traffic lights – before arriving at the stunning vista of white sand and azure sea.
We paid $10 for a sunlounger from a friend of Crispin’s – he seemed to know most people on the island – and bought rum-and-cokes from a beach bar (more rum than cola, to be honest, so we were happy to know that Crispin would be picking us up again in a couple of hours).
Then on St. Barts I took an occasionally hair-raising ride on an all-terrain vehicle round the island’s twisty lanes to admire some truly glorious scenery (but watch out – this is a place where chickens really do cross the road).
However, many times you visit the Caribbean, the white beaches, the vivid blue sea and the friendly, laidback people never fail to enchant and it is the perfect destination year-round. And when you can experience it all the SeaDream way, aboard what feels for all the world like your own private yacht, it really is a dream come true.