It certainly wasn't going to be like any cruise ship we'd been on before, I thought, as we pulled our roll-away suitcases towards the small vessel docked in Dubrovnik, Croatia on that summer Saturday.
|Sea Dream II in Dubrovnik, Croatia|
The ship we were boarding isn't even called a 'cruise ship', it is a 'yacht'; a designation given it by virtue of its size and the high-end service for which it is known. We were boarding the Sea Dream II for our first taste of small ship cruising. This week-long cruise would mark our return to cruising after a long 'dry dock' as result of Covid lockdowns.
|The pool deck was a favorite gathering spot - Sea Dream II|
The ship - smaller than any we've been on before -- accommodates 112 passengers who are spoiled silly by a 90-member crew. At the time of our sailing, cruising was still in its post-Covid infancy, and as a result we had less than 50 passengers on board. A good number of them were Americans.
|Ship's arrival in Koper was big news|
Our ship's arrival in Koper, Slovenia drew a bevy of journalists, television and print media, to greet us as we were literally the first cruise ship to arrive in the port since the fall of 2019.
|Good weather allowed all day dining in the Topside|
I'll admit that at the time The Scout found the deal, I'd never heard of the ship nor the company of the same name that owns it. The fleet consists of two ships: Sea Dream I and Sea Dream II. Both come with high user and industry ratings. Repeat guests - of which there were many on our sailing -- are fiercely loyal not only to the brand, but to a particular ship; so much so, several told us, that they won't book the other ship regardless of how tempting its itineraries and prices.
|A table for two aboard the Sea Dream II|
It didn't take many hours on board to understand what prompts that loyalty and how quickly it develops. Service was impeccable - culinary waitstaff were almost attentive to a fault. The slightest hesitation while eating - or heaven forbid, leaving anything on our plate - was cause for alarm among them as perhaps something didn't meet our satisfaction.
|Dinner was served under the stars - Sea Dream II|
Staff not only knew our names from the get-go, but within 24 hours seemed to have memorized our preferences as well. On my first morning on board I'd gotten up early to watch our arrival in port. I had asked for a black coffee with 'just a splash of milk'. From that morning on, each time I set foot upstairs to watch our arrivals, I was greeted with, 'Good Morning, Mrs. Smith, here's your coffee with just a splash of milk.'
One evening I nearly swooned over the curry entre and told the chef that it was so good I wished I could have it the next night as well but I knew we'd have new choices then. He shrugged and said, 'No problem. Just tell your waiter you want the curry and I will make sure you get it.' Yes, indeed, I ate curry two nights in a row!
It was as if our comfort, happiness, and our appetites were the first and only priority of each staff member.
A State(room) of Bliss
|Chilled champagne greeting in our cabin|
There are no balcony cabins on the ship and we were surprised at how little we missed them. The recently refurbished staterooms were large and comfortable places to relax and recoup between daytime excursions and nighttime entertainment. The large window brightened the space and provided ample viewing.
|The Lounge - footsteps away from our cabin|
Because the ship was so small our cabin was footsteps from the lobby and not far from the entertainment lounge. From both areas one could access the small pool deck on the aft of the ship. A library, piano bar and 'casino' as the single five-seat Blackjack table was called, were a floor above us. The ship's uppermost deck but two floors away. The formal dining room one floor below us. A single elevator was more than enough to accommodate the entire ship as most opted for the stairs.
Something for Everyone
|Becoming kids again aboard the Sea Dream II|
Time and time again, we encounter people who pronounce themselves, 'not a cruise people' based on their stereotype views of cruising, the large group tours, the formal dining, the activities. . .their lists go on. I now have a perfect comeback for them: 'then try small ship cruising.'
|Bike it or hike it on this cruise|
There are no large groups, period. Tours were usually no more than six people. Tours weren't required. Independent exploration was encouraged.
Country-club casual was the dress code. If you wanted to dress more formally you were welcome to do so, but it wasn't required.
As for on-board activities: we had two afternoons in which the ship and the sea became a playground for the 60-something-adults who became kids again when the sea 'toys' came out. Many swam while others lounged on the diving platform, some set off in the small sailing slips, others road the Banana Boat and many took turns jetting about on the ski-doo. And for the the land-lovers, a fleet of bicycles were available on a first-come, first-serve reservation basis at every port of call.
Cruising in a time of Covid
|The library was warm and welcoming|
|Vaccinated and tested, no mask requirement for passengers|
We were tested for Covid on Thursday prior to flying to Croatia , then tested again on Saturday before being allowed to stay on the ship. That testing was done at poolside on board (and once you were deemed 'negative' you were offered champagne and escorted to your room). We were tested again on board on Thursday in order to enter Italy on Saturday. On Friday we were tested again, this time just in case it was needed to enter Greece on Sunday (it wasn't needed, btw, but better safe than sorry).
|All staff wore masks at all times|
On our Own
|Dining at the Municipal Market|
|Returning from port as the sun sets on the Adriatic|
A Taste of the Adriatic
|My words and photos|