Luxury Cruising: Sailing The Mediterranean's Rivieras

Bob Maddams, The Daily Telegraph, July 03, 2013

The gin palace was anchored a few hundred yards from where I stood on SeaDream’s sun deck. I counted four spacious decks above the waterline and a landing pad complete with helicopter. Beyond, the harbour at St Tropez bristled with the masts of more superyachts. I picked up the ship’s binoculars and scanned my nautical neighbour in the hope of spotting an internet billionaire, or perhaps a Russian oligarch, but if the owner was on board, they were keeping a low profile below deck.

If you want to savour a taste of the high life but can’t stretch to your own luxury yacht, then a week or two aboard SeaDream, or its sister ship SeaDream II, is probably the next best thing.

My first impression as I boarded the luxury ship in Genoa was that she certainly looked the part. She may weigh in at well over 4,000 tonnes but the word that best describes her is “elegant”. Every stateroom and suite has an ocean view; amenities include a gym, a casino and a library; and every wooden hand rail and brass fitting glows with well-polished pride. Balinese beds line the upper sun deck, while on the lower one a Jacuzzi bubbles next to a swimming pool.

We were sailing to Portofino, St Tropez and Antibes, a classic “yachtie” itinerary that suited the ship well. After arriving in Genoa I spent the morning strolling the warren of narrow streets leading up from the sweeping crescent of the old market that lines the seafront. Almost at every turn, it seemed, I came across a Romanesque chapel or bijou baroque church, before I found myself staring up at the imposing edifice of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, built by the money the Genoese made ferrying armies across the Mediterranean during the Crusades. In the afternoon I took the courtesy bus to Portofino, whose pretty harbour resembles a postcard painted by one of the French Impressionists.

In Antibes the captain swapped the bridge for a mountain bike and led a party of us on a cycle ride around the town. I followed this with a leisurely lunch at a street café in the cobbled and characterful old quarter and a post-prandial visit to the Picasso Museum (the Spanish master moved to Antibes shortly after the Second World War). Back on board I opted for a reviving, and very probing, deep-tissue Thai massage in the beautifully appointed spa.

Most evenings began with cocktails by the pool followed by dinner in the salon restaurant, or alfresco on the upper deck, and then drinks in the Piano Bar. But most of the serious socialising took place later under the stars at the Top Of The Yacht Bar, where the bartenders were happy to perform impromptu feats of bottle and cocktail-shaker juggling that would have made a Ninja blush.

Even with a full complement of 112 guests, finding a quiet corner was never a problem. The guest-to-crew ratio was almost one to one, meaning someone was always on hand to serve a cool drink or plump up a pillow. Attention to detail was faultless. When I ordered a cold beer, the barman filled my glass with ice and rolled it between his hands to cool it first. From housekeeper to captain, everyone showed a genuine willingness to ensure we wanted for nothing.

That same level of courtesy and care extended to the kitchen, where the cuisine was unashamedly gourmet. When I told the executive chef that my steak had been so tender it was more like pâté than beef, he replied: “I get them flown in from Kansas.”

On-board meals, wine and bar drinks are complimentary, although you could splash out and order a bottle of Château Margaux Premier Grand Cru Classé (US$630) from the carefully chosen cellar. The chef also liked to add a flavour of the region we were sailing through. In St Tropez, for example, a small group of us joined him on his quest to track down the charcuterie that baked a particular pastry he wanted for that evening’s dessert. “It was inspired,” he told us in a conspiratorial whisper, “by Brigitte Bardot.”

Activities on board included t’ai chi and yoga before breakfast. Instead, I chose to swim off the back of the ship in the afternoon from the specially erected Marina Platform. Weather and sea conditions permitting, you could also snorkel, paddle a glass-bottomed kayak, learn to sail or do a bit of wave-bashing on a jet ski. After all, every millionaires’ playground needs its toys.

As I sought out a secluded corner one night to watch the moon’s beam dance across the rippling surface of the sea, I gazed across at the twinkling lights of my superyacht neighbour and thought: “I could get used to this.”

The Cruise Line Limited offers a five-day cruise on board SeaDream I from Dubrovnik, calling at ports including Kotor, Corfu, Taormina and Capri, departing October 9, 2013. From £1,859pp excluding flights (0800 008 6682; ).