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Spotting the stately, four-masted Sea Cloud docked at Bridgetown, Barbados, dwarfed by several big cruise ships, Luxury Travel Advisor immediately knew our upcoming, 11-night Caribbean cruise on this maritime legend, the world’s oldest operating cruise ship, wouldn’t be a typical voyage. It wasn’t. It was so much more.
A Bit About History
Celebrating her 90th birthday in 2021, Sea Cloud (originally named Hussar V) was built as a magnificent private yacht for General Foods’ heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, E. F. Hutton. In grand style, the ship set sail with gold taps, French antiques and marble fireplaces, and over the years, hosted Hollywood celebrities, diplomats and other VIPS.
The couple’s young daughter (actress Dina Merrill), spent her childhood onboard. Renamed Sea Cloud by Post after her divorce from Hutton, the ship served as a U.S. military weather ship during World War II. Later, Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina bought the ship (renaming it Angelita, his daughter’s name).
Over the years it had several other owners, before being laid up for several years in Colon, Panama. But maritime buffs never gave up. The ship was rescued, restored in Germany and since 1979 has been sailing for Sea Cloud Cruises.
Turning heads wherever she sailed on our cruise, the 64-passenger Sea Cloud delivers an intimate, laid-back, almost beguiling experience that’s upscale in so many ways, yet very different from a classic luxury small-ship voyage. Guests remarked they “felt a part of something special,” considering the ship’s storied past and when standing on deck and gazing upward to tens of thousands of square feet of canvas unfurled and blowing in the wind.
Many guests were repeat Sea Cloud guests, others first-timers who considered a voyage on this ship a bucket-list vacation. One factor was clear from the start: Without exception, all were convivial and internationally focused; they loved sailing with like-minded people and conversing with those from other countries and cultures. Almost every guest we met told us they also loved the “feeling” of sailing on this ship — a sense of seagoing adventure, a throwback to a past maritime era. We also learned many own a private yacht, vacation home or even an airplane, yet they still selected Sea Cloud for their vacation.
Service-wise, Sea Cloud has nearly a 1-to-1 guest-to-crew ratio. Luxury Travel Advisor felt crew members delivered genuine, personalized and anticipatory service. Guests and crew became akin to family as the cruise progressed. Luxury touches included a glass of champagne upon arrival and at special dinners, wet hand towels for guests coming back from a day ashore, and highly personalized bartender and wait staff service (they quickly learned guest preferences). The cruise director constantly circulated, too, to converse with guests and assure they were having a great time.
Sea Cloud’s Cabins
By modern cruising standards, Sea Cloud is a small ship, yet staterooms and suites are comfortable, well-appointed with quality art and good storage. All 32 guest accommodations have private bathrooms. Ten of those are Main Deck historic cabins that are original to the ship and they have bathrooms with a combination bathtub / shower. Other accommodations have a shower only.
Luxury owner’s cabin No. 1 (right), used to be Marjorie Merriweather Post’s suite. It has a marble fireplace. // Photo courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises
Historic cabins are accessed via an interior curved stairway down from The Lounge, plus another stairway. Surprisingly, historic cabins are quite robust space-wise. Given their lower deck locale, they have multiple portholes not windows for natural light. They’ve been lovingly renovated and some original features from the Post-Hutton era remain.
Once during most cruises, with guest permission, the ship’s staff set up an open house of those historic cabins and all guests are invited to view them pre-dinner, followed by a “historic dinner” in the Restaurant afterward. So, Luxury Travel Advisor toured Post’s and Hutton’s adjacent Luxury Owner’s Suite category accommodations (once connected via a door in what is today the closet).
We’d sail in style and opt for Post’s suite, No. 1, which is light and cheery, and has lovely luxury touches like gorgeous etching on a mirror. But it depends on your bent. Hutton’s No. 2 is darker, more masculine in its color scheme. Both suites are lovingly restored much the way they looked “back in the day.” Post’s cabin has a marble fireplace, original Louis-Philippe chairs, triple porthole windows and a marble bath with gold-plated swan fixtures. Hutton’s cabin is bathed in warm maple paneling and guests can write postcards to friends back home while sitting at his original desk.
Luxury owner’s cabin No. 2 is the former wood-paneled suite of Edward Hutton and offers 366 square feet of space. // Photo courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises
Bathrooms for these top suites are large with one sink, large combination tub / shower, and toilet. While Hutton’s bathroom is luxuriously accented with red Carrara marble, we also liked the desk / makeup / dressing table in Post’s bathroom. On this same deck are six other “original” accommodations; No. 8 was Merrill’s childhood cabin.
On the Promenade Deck one level up, our cabin, No. 23, a Category 3 accommodation, was compact but comfortable with two large picture windows. It had twin beds with a nightstand between, a writing desk, a minibar stocked with various sodas and bowl of fresh fruit (restocked daily), and a bottle of champagne and fresh flowers upon arrival. The closet area had ample storage and hanging space. We loved our bathroom’s stylish, multi-tier pedestal sink, and the bathroom had a shower, toilet and L’Occitane en Provence bath amenities including vegetable soap.
A full deck of staterooms with double beds or twin beds are also located above the Restaurant on the Captain’s / Lido Deck level, atop the ship. All Sea Cloud staterooms have soft bathrobes, a hair dryer, telephone and a private safe. Air conditioning is individually adjusted and ours worked well. Each evening during turn-down service, guests receive the next day’s daily program of activities. Each morning, our cabin steward also creatively arranged our duvet in a different lay-out, once in the shape of a heart.
As for Wi-Fi, it’s available for an added fee, but works in public spaces not cabins. Guests also won’t find an in-cabin TV / entertainment system, but cabins have a radio with classical music and jazz / popular music channels. Both the Lounge and the Lido Bar have big-screen TVs for watching events or enrichment presentations. Cabins have 220v, 50Hz current, so bring plugs / adaptors.
Guests will never go hungry on Sea Cloud, and, overall, the food quality was superb. The Restaurant’s bountiful breakfast buffet included fresh fruits, freshly baked croissants, pastries, scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, sausages, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, cereal and more. Guests can also order cooked-to-order eggs, waffles and other specialties. Desire a glass of champagne or a cappuccino? It’s done. We loved the wide range of organic teas.
Lunch is served in the Lido Bar, a mixed-use space cocooned in a soaring heavy-duty canvas structure that has “windows” and allows use even on rainy days. Guests serve themselves at delectable lunch buffets with more-than-ordinary fare. Crew serve red and white wine and take orders for other drinks.
Our lunch buffets featured a cooked-to-order station with, for example, a chef preparing fresh pasta or a succulent beef dish. Menus vary sizably, so guests can find fresh salads, nuts, dried fruits, pasta and seafood salads, goose liver terrine with cranberries, humongous shrimp, poached fish with chutney, several kinds of soup, tenderloin beef, ahi tuna, fried calamari, multiple other entrées, baked vegetables, roasted potatoes and much more, including desserts and ice cream.
Lunch included generous pours of red and white wine. On most Caribbean voyages, beverages including beer, house wines and cocktails are complimentary throughout, while special wines are available at an additional charge. In the Mediterranean, beer and house wine are complimentary at lunch and dinner, with other drinks charged to the guest’s tab.
After a clanging ship’s bell signals that dinner is ready, guests head for the elegant, yet comfortable open seating Lounge and adjacent oak-paneled Restaurant, with many dining tables, chairs and cushioned benches. All guests can be seated at once. This isn’t a dress-up ship, except on special dinner nights. Most nights people dressed smart casual.
The Dinner Tables are set with long, slender white candles with open flames, something one never sees on most cruise ships. // Photo by Susan J. Young
That said, we absolutely loved the elegant dinner table settings, crisp white tablecloths, lovely cutlery and glassware, and something one never sees on most cruise ships — long, slender white candles with open flames.
Overall, the cuisine on our voyage was ultra-high quality with the freshest ingredients. Night after night, dishes were perfectly cooked and displayed creatively. The luxury travelers on our cruise praised both the head chef and the pastry chef, based on unsolicited feedback. Guests can advise the reception desk of any special dietary needs or preferences.
Dinner menus vary nightly, but typically have one salad, soup or dessert and on many nights (not all) a choice of entrée. Meats served include pork, beef, chicken, veal, lamb and even venison. Fresh fish was often caught the same day. Vegetarian options are available.
One night’s dinner menu, for example, offered rocket salad with olives and feta cheese; pumpkin-curry soup with sesame oil; an entrée choice of roasted duck breast with orange sauce and red cabbage or poached John Dory with fennel and rosemary potato or Cordon Bleu Eggplant with cream cheese; Tonka bean crème brulee with apricots and sorbet; and an international cheese selection.
The ship also offers early and late riser’s breakfasts plus afternoon “Tea Time” with coffee, tea, sandwiches and freshly baked (to-die-for) cookies, plus late-night snacks. Complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, iced tea, juice and water are available at the Lido Bar during its daily hours of operation.
When the ship’s 30 sails are raised and unfurled, it’s magnificent to look up to see them blowing in the wind. The top of the highest mast soars 184 feet over the water line. Hint: The best spot to view the sails is the Promenade Deck’s Blue Lagoon area.
Eager, able-bodied guests who so desire also can volunteer to assist the crew in raising the sails. After a safety / operational briefing, they’re assigned specific tasks. Guests who help receive a certificate recognizing their seamanship achievement.
During days when sea and wind conditions are not favorable, the ship sails solely with motor power. This ship also has a 24/7 open bridge policy (with only a few exceptions), so guests can show up, talk with the crew, learn about ship operations and view both historical nautical instruments and modern maritime technology. One day on our cruise, the ship offered an engine room tour, too.
The Lido Bar is the hot spot for guests to gather for the captain’s welcome cocktail party, an evening barbecue, port talks, safety presentations, enrichment lectures, evening piano music, and, on our cruise, a guest wedding celebration that extended up to the Spanker Deck; all guests were invited to attend.
Coincidentally, the Lido Bar also doubles as the ship’s purser’s / reception desk. Guests can go there to buy Internet packages, arrange for alternative menus or schedule a wake-up call, for example. Many guests also ventured here to use their Wi-Fi package. What could be improved? We’d like to see Wi-Fi extended to the cabins, so guests don’t have to head for public spaces to connect.
The top of the highest mast soars 184 feet over the water line. // Photo by Susan J. Young
The Lounge, sporting original intricate woodworking and lamps with decorative eagles (something Post loved), is another gathering place. It’s home to a bar, decorative fireplace, piano, and a desk with a computer terminal for guest use in sending e-mails via the ship system. The ship’s library is here, too, with board games and a large wall of shelves with fiction and nonfiction books in several languages, including English.
We’d suggest flipping through the library’s book, “Sea Cloud,” also available for purchase onboard. Written by author / shipping expert Kurt Grobecker, it’s a treasure trove of historic photos. Separately, check out the original painting of the ship hanging in the Lounge; it was donated by Merrill.
Enrichment lectures on our cruise were ably handled by Gerrit Aust in separate English and German language talks. One talk covered Caribbean pirates, another the history of cruising and yet another Sea Cloud’s history and Marjorie Merriweather Post’s life. Guests could also listen to an officer-directed session about identifying stars; songs by Sea Cloud’s Shanty Singers; a maritime knot tying session; and more.
The Lounge also opened one afternoon as a “shop” with clothing, boutique goods, souvenirs and logo items for purchase. Active travelers walked or ran around the Promenade Deck, burning calories while soaking up the breezes, as Sea Cloud doesn’t have a spa or exercise center.
For sun, the Spanker Deck was a good spot, and guests can ask the crew about “Fun Island,” an inflatable water sled that can be towed by a Zodiac. In calm seas, the gangway can provide direct ocean access for swimming or snorkeling.
Good to Know
Couple of important points: English and German are the official onboard languages. Our captain spoke to guests in English, and the cruise director then translated in German. Menus, announcements and lectures are in both languages. Crew were bilingual for the most part. My cabin steward spoke excellent English as did waiters, the cruise director and hotel department staff.
Seventy-five percent of guests on our cruise were from Germany, others from the U.S., U.K., Switzerland or Southeast Asia. We sat at dinner most nights with German guests, most of whom spoke English quite well.
The Lido Bar and Restaurant both have freshwater filtration and distribution stations; so, guests can fill up their complimentary Sea Cloud metallic water bottle with either still, slightly fizzy or sparkling water.
Moving from place to place onboard — such as from cocktail social time to dinner — often means climbing, descending a flight of open stairs or walking on outside decks, at times around ropes on the floor and during inclement weather. As it’s a historic ship, Sea Cloud isn’t built to ADA standards and has no elevator. For some mobility-challenged guests, a better choice may be the line’s new Sea Cloud Spirit, setting sail this year; it does have an elevator.
A bilingual doctor on our cruise kept daily scheduled hours in a small medical office, but he was also available ‘round the clock if a guest was ill.
During summer, Sea Cloud sails in the Mediterranean from Spain to the eastern Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea, and to the Canary Islands. In November, it sails transatlantic while repositioning to the Caribbean and then operates a winter season from Barbados to such isles as Antigua, Dominica, Iles des Saintes (Guadeloupe), Bequia (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia.
What’s special is that it also anchors in pristine, less-visited spots where big ships can’t venture. Among them is Chatham Bay, Union Island in the Grenadines, a stunningly gorgeous harbor where the line arranges exclusive use of the local open-air beach complex for a private lunch with live entertainment and a deserted beach for sunning. It’s akin to a private island experience.
Chatham Bay, Union Island in the Grenadines, is a gorgeous harbor where Sea Cloud arranges exclusive use of the beach complex for a private lunch with live entertainment and a deserted beach for sunning. // Photo by Susan J. Young
Another memorable shoreside experience on our cruise was an evening call at the British Virgin Isand’s Jost Van Dyke, where guests were tendered ashore to dance, enjoy drinks and live music while hobnobbing with the yachting set at the famous Foxy’s Bar.
Luxury in a Different Way
Sea Cloud isn’t a traditional luxury experience, but rather the luxury of an amazing sailing adventure on an iconic ship. It’s also luxury in terms of its pampering onboard aura, fine cuisine and wines, high-quality enrichment lectures and guest-centric, anticipatory service. It’s also the luxury of sailing with other like-minded, upscale guests who’ve clearly “been there, done that” and appreciate Sea Cloud’s differentiating experiences.
Nearly 90 years after first setting sail, Sea Cloud still excels at fulfilling the bucket-list desires of guests, sometimes in a quite simple way. Guests on our cruise often just sat outside on polished mahogany benches and gazed across the ocean with the wind in their hair, a smile on their face and the sea in their soul.