A Dream at Sea

Sea Dream Yacht Club offers intimate luxury on the Mediterranean

By: David Wishart

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Sea Dream Yacht Club sails
the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
Improving on perfection is hard to do, even in the travel industry where hyperbole is king. For example, who would have thought that the Sea Goddess small luxury cruise ships, considered a sensation when launched more than 20 years ago, could be improved, not by newbuilds, but by modification and marketing?

The ships, each 4,300 tons and holding 110 passengers, were bought by Sea Dream Yacht Club six years ago and adapted to appeal to a younger clientele. The top decks were redesigned to include Balinese sunbeds and a popular “top of the yacht” bar surrounded by wicker tables and chairs. Thai massage mats replaced shuffleboard and the dress code was thrown overboard.

Today, Sea Dream wins awards, the ships are full, passengers include families, honeymooners and many “40-somethings,” but the most surprising thing is that the ships still look new.

I was familiar with the company’s success story when I boarded Sea Dream 1 at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. I also knew it was a handsome vessel, as striking as any billionaire’s private yacht in the Mediterranean. But where were the dents in the hull, the marks on the paint, and the other patina of the years? The brass railings were gleaming, the teak decks sanded and perfectly grouted, the carpets in the reception area flawless, the flowers and the fruit bowl fresh. The handsome light woodwork in my cabin looked like new, and the flat-screen TV certainly was. The biggest surprise was the bathroom, featuring marble from top to bottom and the latest multi-jet faucet in the shower.

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Sea Dream’s staterooms feature flat-panel TVs.
Our first port was meant to be Bastia on Corsica, but due to poor weather in that area as well as headwinds, the captain made for Elba instead. Such a quick switch is often easier for a smaller ship like Sea Dream, and indeed we had a relatively smooth crossing to the island where Napoleon was kept hostage in the early 19th century. The next day, Sea Dream slipped into the bay of Portovenere, where many hopped on to a sightseeing boat for a trip to the famous Cinque Terre ports. Sailing this dramatic coast is one of travel’s great experiences, and part of it allows a hike between two ports. The less adventurous settled for a good lunch at Monterosso, where an American woman who lives there directed us to a restaurant called Il Pirata.

Portofino was next, the lovely little port with pastel-colored buildings. The hills around here have villas belonging to some of Italy’s richest families, and Pavarotti had a place here.

Sea Dream anchored just five minutes away by tender, and we had lunch on deck enjoying a fine view of the Hotel Splendido, the famous property owned by Orient-Express.

That night passengers had drinks at the top deck bar. We comprised a lively mixture, including a British venture capitalist, an American airline pilot, the Brussels-based vice president of a big U.S. multi-national, a Russian clothes designer, a Dutch couple with a young family, and none other than the co-owner of Sea Dream Yacht Club, Atle Brynelstad, with his wife and daughter. Brynelstad gets to know what passengers want by mixing freely with them, and he doesn’t hide his identity. He also mentioned that the company is likely to build a new vessel, probably in the range of 150-200 passengers.

A few of the guests didn’t make it back to their cabins that evening, electing to sleep on the Balinese sunbeds under the stars. All it took was a word with the hotel manager and he had beds made up. This was typical of the mood on board young at heart, if not years. The same people put the gym, spa and golf simulator to good use, and when Sea Dream was at anchor the swim grid was lowered and sailboats and other water toys were available at no charge.

Similarly, the drinks on board, including wine with meals, plus tips, were all included. Shore excursions, particularly transfers from ports such as Livorno to Florence, were on the expensive side, but many adventurous passengers simply took trains.


Sea Dream 1 and Sea Dream 2 offer an array of Mediterranean itineraries in the summer and Caribbean itineraries in the winter.

Sea Dream Yacht Club