Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kids on SeaDream...


SeaDream I in San Juan, Puerto Rico...

I will never forget the first time I boarded a SeaDream cruise.  It was April 2010 and Bill and I had booked a five night cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands.  I remember the fare was a very reasonable $1599 per person plus government fees.  Yes, it sounds like a lot for a cruise, but SeaDream is all inclusive.  I had been trying to sell Bill on the concept of a luxury cruise for a long time.  Prior to our first SeaDream cruise, we had been on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas, which took us to four ports in the Baltics.  We spent almost as much for that cruise, which wasn't nearly as intimate or special... although given how expensive Scandinavia is, I think we probably got a nice deal with Royal Caribbean's cruise.

Anyway, though our first SeaDream cruise was not at all perfect, Bill and I had a wonderful and unforgettable time.  We disembarked in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands completely blown away by the experience.  It took me a couple of months to stop fantasizing about our next SeaDream cruise.  I talked it up constantly and constantly shopped for new voyages.

We took our second SeaDream cruise in November 2011.  That cruise was also very special, as we were celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary.  Bill and I made a couple of new friends and I got to swim in some of the world's most beautiful waters.  I got a terrible sunburn, but I also got to enjoy the piano bar for the first time.  By the time we were enjoying our Champagne and Caviar Splash in Mayreau, I was making plans to book again.  When we got home, I happily began what was becoming a ritual, searching for our next cruise.

Our third SeaDream cruise was in Italy and Greece in May of this year.  By the time we boarded this cruise, I was beginning to feel like a regular, even though there are others who sail SeaDream a lot more than I could ever hope to.  I started noticing things that made SeaDream less magical to me, even though our most recent voyage was probably the best of the three.  It was the best even though I got sick with a nasty cold during that week onboard.

I think one thing that made SeaDream less mind-blowing the last time was that Bill and I also sailed on Hebridean Princess less than a year ago, and that experience in Scotland made us realize that there are other great small ships out there waiting to be explored.  Another thing that made it less special was the fact that there were some obvious cost cutting measures being taken.  On our first cruise, champagne flowed freely.  On our second and third cruises, I noticed prosecco was being offered instead.  I wasn't upset about the prosecco.  I like it fine.  Also, I understand that if I had asked for champagne, I could have gotten champagne.  But it was a sign that there were some pennies being pinched.

And then, I started noticing a lot of people on Cruise Critic complaining about kids on SeaDream.  While Bill and I have been really lucky-- we've only encountered one kid on our three cruises and that was a baby who rarely made an appearance-- others report having to endure large groups of unruly children running around on what are very small cruise ships.  Think about it.  SeaDream I and II are both tiny vessels; each is designed to carry just 112 passengers.  There aren't that many places to go onboard when the rugrats are running wild.  Add in the fact that there are no balconies on either SeaDream vessel and you realize that locking yourself in your cabin for a little peace and quiet can result in claustrophobia very quickly.  Who books a cruise to hang out in their stateroom, anyway?

Our last SeaDream cruise cost about $7000, not including airfare, transportation, and hotel.  That price includes a 15% discount we got for pre-booking onboard.  All told, we probably spent $10,000 to do Italy and Greece SeaDream style.  Our last voyage was very good, but it didn't make me forget Hebridean Princess, which was gloriously kid free and, in many ways, ultimately a better value than SeaDream was despite its generally higher fares.  I thought about pre-booking another cruise on our last SeaDream cruise, but realized our financial future is less certain since Bill has to retire.  And I remembered that there are other cruises out there just waiting to be explored in places SeaDream doesn't yet go...

But also, I know that if I spent $10,000 for a SeaDream cruise and had to worry about kids pooping in the pool, hogging the lounge chairs, or snorkeling in the hot tub, it would really piss me off in a big way.  I realize that some kids are great around adults and enjoy grown up travel experiences.  Those kids are few and far between, though, and the average kid on SeaDream would probably not enjoy the experience that much.  SeaDream has recently started offering a makeshift kid program for voyages that have a lot of kids onboard, but it's nothing like what other lines offer, including Crystal, which is considered a luxury cruise line.

Frankly, I can't understand why a loving parent would subject their kids to a cruise where they won't be looked upon fondly by most of the passengers or staff and probably won't be kept entertained.  There are so many vacation options out there for families with young kids.  Some of those options are quite luxurious and allow adults to have their fun while their kids are properly supervised and can take part in fun activities with other kids.  Why choose a cruise line that is advertised as an adult experience for couples?

SeaDream is not designed for children and most children, when they are bored, will make sure everyone knows about it.  What ends up happening, then?  SeaDream's "regulars" get pissed off and decide not to book again.  SeaDream loses revenue and has to drop prices, which makes it more attractive to families.  And then the families show up with their kids, who will no doubt endure dirty looks from other passengers.  The staff will endure complaints from child free  passengers who are rightfully upset about not being able to use the jacuzzi for a couple of hours because someone let their child take a dump in it.  Or passengers who can't go to sleep because someone has let their children run up and down the halls, shrieking.  The kids are just being kids, wanting to burn off their abundant energy.  But many people go on vacation to escape this sort of thing; and people on SeaDream ships pay a lot to be there.  It's selfish to subject innocent vacationers to your kids on a ship that is not designed for kids.  It's selfish to SeaDream staff to expect them to entertain your little darlings when they are trying to entertain adults who can be very demanding and expect a lot for what they're paying.  And it's selfish to your kids to expect them to act like adults when they're kids and just want to be entertained and be able to blow off some steam.

Granted, I have seen some adults on SeaDream act much worse than kids ever could.  The difference is that SeaDream apparently has no issue dealing with unruly adults who bother other passengers and will even kick these people off if they get too out of hand.  They apparently don't do as much about kids or their parents, who let their kids annoy others who have paid a lot of money to be on vacation and may not have that many vacation days available to them.  The end result is that people who might have been loyal to the brand now can't be sure of what their $10,000 is paying for.
 
I met a man on my second SeaDream cruise who said he had sailed four times with SeaDream and it was his favorite line.  Recently, he told me he doesn't want to sail on SeaDream anymore.  And he has also expressed doubts that the line can survive the way it's going now.  I didn't want to believe him when he first said it, but I must say that the griping on Cruise Critic is starting to reach a fever pitch.  Unfortunately, even choosing cruises that happen at a time of year when kids are usually in school doesn't seem to be helping some hapless cruisers, nor does it seem to matter if one chooses an expensive cruise.  The recent very attractive Black Sea cruise was more than Bill and I could spend for a vacation, but apparently it's overrun with obstreperous kids anyway.

I don't know if or when Bill and I will sail on SeaDream again.  I still have very high regard for SeaDream and its wonderful staff.  When it's good, it's very good.  But Bill and I don't have the time or the money to gamble on SeaDream cruises if we can't be sure our vacation won't be ruined by the antics of unsupervised children running amok.  There just isn't enough premium liquor in the world for that.


Still... this is pretty hard to give up forever...

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