Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Making the Sea Dream Come True

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

And it certainly was going to be different experience as European Covid restrictions on travel were loosening and in some cases, lifting, but still very much present. 

Cruising in a time of Covid - a bit different but not bad

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

There's no denying that Covid has changed - at least for now - the way we travel.  For this 10-day get-away, we flew to Dubrovnik from Athens and from Milan, Italy back to Athens, and visited three countries (Croatia, Slovenia and Italy) as part of the trip. We filled out Passenger Locator Forms (in theory, used to find you if someone with whom you've been in contact comes down with Covid) for four countries, the cruise line, and for one of the airlines. 

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). 

We all had to show proof of full vaccination prior to even arriving at the ship. A requirement, as passengers, that we wholeheartedly supported.

All staff wore masks at all times

Because we all were vaccinated and so frequently tested and found negative, passengers were not required to wear masks on board.  Staff members, although vaccinated and tested regularly, did have to wear masks. We did wear masks on airplanes, in airports and the cruise terminals and on shore as required.

On our Own

Dining at the Municipal Market

While other cruise lines were still requiring passengers to be a part of a ship-sponsored tour on shore (even in countries not requiring it) we were most pleased we were free to come and go on our own on Sea Dream.  That allowed us to set off and explore what we wanted, when we wanted. Including setting forth for dinner on shore in Rovinj, Croatia, at a small restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Municipal Market.

Returning from port as the sun sets on the Adriatic

Being on a small ship, and visiting places the big ships can't logistically access also allowed for long stays in ports of call; often times only needing to be back on board long after the sun had set.

A Taste of the Adriatic

My words and photos 

I've purposely not mentioned our itinerary because I focused on the ports of call in an article I wrote for The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine. Hope you'll take another minute to click this link and see where our little ship was able to take us. The ports of call were amazing!  Hopefully it will bring back memories for those of you who've told us you have traveled these waters and maybe move the Adriatic a bit higher on the bucket lists of those who haven't!

Thanks for the time you've spent with us today!  We've just returned to stormy Greece after a month in our U.S. home.  Next week I'll have a few more travel tales for you, so hope you'll be back with us!  And a big welcome to our new subscribers!! Nice to have you with us~

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  1. I'm drooling with envy! THIS is the trip I'd love to do. I won't ever do a large ship cruise again, but small ships? Oh, yes! I read your magazine article, and the photos were magnificent. You've definitely moved the Adriatic high up on my bucket list! The website and this blog post are now saved in my notes. Welcome back to Greece!

  2. I love your picture of the sun set with the ship. We are currently traveling all around Sicily for 5 weeks. It has been challenging with covid requirements - but it is handled so different in different areas of the island. Some places it is as if covid never happened. In larger cities they require to see your vaccination card before you can go into a restaurant.
    We traveled to Sicily instead of Kalamata because of covid restriction regulations. We still want to get back there. We have found that getting a golden visa means you have to pay for health insurance which at our age (early 70's) is very expensive. Do you have suggestions on how to do that?


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