Stop us if you’ve heard this one before – it’s a great year to be looking for a luxury cruise. Yes, we know. It was the subject of our blog just a few weeks ago in January, where we were looking ahead to the whole of 2019.
We have no great wish to keep sounding the same message, but it is definitely worth a quick repeat this week in light of the latest news from SeaDream Yacht Club. The distinctive, two-ship fleet will become three in 2021 with their very first new-build, and it adds even more lustre to an area of the cruise world that continues to amaze.
And here’s the thing. Going back to the late 1980s, this sector of cruising didn’t exist. At all. In 1987, there were the mainstream large-ship cruise lines of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Carnival, Royal Viking Line and Holland America, plus Britain’s trio of P&O, Cunard and the one-ship operation of venerable Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. And that was pretty much it.
It’s true that cruising back in that pre-modern era still tended to be a tad exclusive and more upmarket, but none of the ships then sailing the seas of the world reeked of genuine luxury. There was no six-star icon of sailing virtue; no ocean-going superlative.
And then came Atle Brynestad. A Norwegian entrepreneur of significant vision, Brynestad had a notion of a different cruise paradigm in 1987, a smaller, sleeker and more distinguished version than anything that had been tried before. As an investor in Royal Viking Line, he’d seen the possibility for pushing the five-star envelope so, while all the major lines were looking to build bigger, he decided nicer things did, actually, come in smaller packages.
Hence, with the backing of some fellow Oslo-based financiers, Seabourn Cruise Line was born. With two ships at an ultra-modest 10,000 tons (eventually adding a third in 1995), this maritime exemplar proceeded to re-write the formula for illustrious cruising, eventually coming under the eye of the giant Carnival Corporation, who promptly bought it up in a huge double swoop that also netted – and merged it with – Cunard Line.
As if by some magical connection, the merger brought two other small ships into the fold. Sea Goddess I and II had been built in the mid-1980s for a small Norwegian company, and quickly passed on to Cunard as massively unprofitable. At just 4,260 tons, and holding only 112 passengers, they were more super-yachts than cruise ships but, when placed alongside the original Seabourn trio in 1999 and renamed Seabourn Goddess I and II, they started to make sense as small, chic alternatives to their bigger brethren.
Still, even under the Seabourn umbrella – which also now included the 39,000-ton Seabourn Sun (the former Royal Viking Sun) – the marketing message was jumbled and awkward. There was too much diversity for such a small fleet, and Carnival was ready to listen to ideas as to how to differentiate its Seabourn brand.
By this time, Brynestad had become chairman of Cunard Line and a Carnival board member, while Seabourn had quietly become a watchword for ultra-luxe trend-setting. But running a line as large – and cumbersome – as Cunard was not Brynestad’s cup of nautical tea. In 2000, he resigned as chairman and set about another new venture.
He still hankered for Seabourn in its original design, and so he came up with an alternative – yachting rather than cruising. To him, yachting was more a statement about lifestyle than actual sailing. And what better vessels to introduce his Yacht Club vision than the Seabourn Goddesses?
In partnership with Larry Pimentel – another Cunard executive ‘refugee’ – Brynestad bought the two super-yachts back off Carnival/Cunard and set them up as SeaDream Yacht Club, a novel take on small-scale cruise distinction. Under the slogan, “It’s yachting, not cruising,” the duo breathed new life into the 16-year-old ships and found a whole new market.
Now he’s looking to add a new chapter to the SeaDream story. While Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Regent have all built on his original legacy and gone on to newer and more impressive hardware, SeaDream has stuck with its boutique little duo, which are now 35 years old. And, while they have been lovingly and painstakingly maintained, they do start to pale beside the new tonnage of their ultra-luxe rivals.
All that will change with the advent of SeaDream Innovation in 2021. It will still have the same sleek, polished lines as its siblings but, at 15,600 tons and 155 metres long, it will be more than three times the size of the original pair and 50m longer. It will carry just twice the number of passengers (220) and provide a much more generous space ratio (a whopping 70.9 instead of 38.7), as well as a one-to-one staff-guest ratio.
Even more importantly, the newcomer will be geared up for genuine worldwide travel, or ‘Global Yachting’ as Brynestad has already termed it. The first season, beginning in September 2021, will see the Innovation visit all seven contents and 200 ports of call in 49 countries, voyaging from London to Bermuda, down through the Panama Canal to South America, taking in the whole west coast as far as Ushuaia, and then on to Antarctica.
From there, it will cruise back up the coast to Rio, cross the Atlantic again, and head up to Norway, and the Arctic Circle, to provide a luxury option for visiting Svalbard and the land of the polar bear and midnight sun. Other intended destinations include the famed Northwest Passage, Asia and the South Pacific – all areas SeaDream has not been able to feature before.
It represents an expansion of both territory and style, with all the benefits of the majority of suites having balconies and extra features such as three marinas and outdoor dining. It will still boast the same faultless service, though, and SeaDream’s essential personalised ethos.
As Brynestad insisted: “This project has been a dream of mine for many years. It has been a true labour of love to meticulously design every aspect of this yacht, from the interiors and facilities to the itineraries. We’ve been looking to expand the fleet and we feel the time is right to introduce a new concept of global yachting with a ship that can do anything. Luxury today is not decided by a high-end company anymore, it is decided by the consumer, so they can choose what they want to do during the day.”
Sound good? We know it ticks all the boxes for us, especially travelling to the polar regions. The only snag may be that it is still only one ship, and only 220 passengers a time. Getting a place aboard may be a tough job. Bookings open on April 17, though. You know what to do…!
Have you cruised with SeaDream? Does this newcomer appeal to you or do you still prefer the original duo? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.